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Victor Rodriguez shines when Sounders need him most

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After battling injuries most of the year, Rodriguez wins MLS Cup MVP.

Mike Russell / Sounder at Heart

SEATTLE — Just about nothing has gone Victor Rodriguez’s way this season. After a promising start in which he had a goal and two assists in his first three games, his form dipped. Then various injuries set in, keeping him from starting more two consecutive games over the season’s final five months.

By the time the playoffs rolled around, he was again scrambling to get fit.

Although Rodriguez never regained his starting spot, he was able to get healthy enough to be available throughout the postseason. Without him, it’s easy to imagine the Sounders’ season ending very differently.

Rodriguez entered Sunday’s MLS Cup in the 61st minute with the Sounders struggling to do anything like control the match despite having just taken the lead. Over the next 20-odd minutes, the Sounders did just that with Rodriguez’s perfectly curled strike in 76th minute proving to be the winner.

“I think I deserve that,” said Rodriguez, who earned MLS Cup MVP for his efforts. “I worked a lot, every single day for this moment. It was a hard season for me, especially this year was a lot of injuries. Sometimes these things happen and I’m enjoying this moment.”

This is the final year of Rodriguez’s Sounders contract, and as recently as a month ago, it was hard to imagine that he’d be back. But his performance in what has to be the most important match in franchise history almost has to force some reconsideration.

Sounders GM Garth Lagerwey seemed to be doing just that in a jubilant, beer-soaked locker room.

“He gets healthy toward the end of the season and then doesn’t even get on the field,” Lagerwey said. “There’s all these opportunities for him to quit, and he never did. For him to get that vindication of MVP, score the winner in the final after everything he did.

“The public doesn’t see it, but we see it. We know the guys who work in rehab. We know the guys who fluff their way through it. Nobody worked harder than Victor, nobody earned it more than him. Nobody deserves it more than him. I’m delighted, ecstatic, over the moon for him.”

For all the obvious talents of Nicolas Lodeiro, Raúl Ruidíaz and Jordan Morris, Rodriguez has an ability to control games in a different way. His dribbling, passing and movement open up the game and give the Sounders a look of a team that can play with anyone. There should be no question that the Sounders are their best version when Rodriguez is healthy and playing well, like he was against TFC.

But he’s also not cheap, making more than $1 million in 2019 while playing about a third of the available minutes.

“Of course, I wanted to play all the minutes possible, and it was a little bit hard for my family, but I’m so happy for today,” Rodriguez said. “My teammates really helped me a lot in the hard moments.”

What comes next is almost impossible to say, but part of what makes Rodriguez so attractive is that he’s willing to do whatever’s asked and is capable of stepping up whenever needed. After a performance like that, after hearing how well thought of he is in the locker room, it sure is tempting to imagine him back in rave green.