#1 Nicolás Lodeiro
Realio’s rating: 7.13 in 32 appearances
Community rating: 7.16
Regular Season: 7.00 in 28 appearances - Playoffs: 8.00 in 4 appearances
MOTM = 6 High = 9 Low = 5
In 2019, once again, the Sounders’ best player was Nico Lodeiro, and that won’t be a surprise to anyone who has watched this team since his arrival. Lodeiro is one of the best players in the league, a guy who forces every other team to adjust to him, and the type of player who can take over a match and single-handedly will his team to win. His combination of skills and work rate allow him to create mismatches all over the field, and he leverages this to link up with teammates offensively from anywhere. Averaging over 100 touches a match, Nico is the engine of the Sounders, and nearly every possession sees his influence. Although completely integral to the team offensively, he doesn’t forget his defensive duties, working hard to get back and support teammates everywhere on the field. Lodeiro is a complete player, with almost no holes in his game, showcasing incredible touch, vision, effort, and ever-increasing leadership to match his unparalleled desire to win. He showed up 32 times for Seattle in 2019 and was the clear top performer on ratings.
What I liked: Nico’s ability to augment the best attributes of those around him is amazing. When creating with Jordan Morris he looks to drop inch-perfect passes through the lines to find Jordan in space. If it’s Cristian Roldan, he links through the middle and looks for quick give and gos. Always with his head up, Nico is amazing at finding the elusive runs of Raúl Ruidíaz and is able to connect with him to produce goals. Nico changes the way everyone on the field plays, both offensively and defensively, and it’s almost always for the better. Defensively, he is tireless in supporting teammates. This allows guys like Cristian and Goose to be aggressive in the midfield with Lodeiro’s support, or gives wide players the comfort of knowing that he will be able to get all the way across the field to help. Everyone can press more effectively with Nico covering so much ground, starting from the front. Offensively, there are few better facilitators in the league, with Lodeiro constantly looking to slip players through into advantageous positions. If you move without the ball, Nico will find you towards goal. Not just a helper, Lodeiro added seven goals to his 12 assists this season, popping up in advanced spots and showing a strong finishing touch when given the opportunity. Nico also gets hyped for the biggest games. The last two times Seattle played “the best team in the history of MLS,” Lodeiro earned a 9 each match, including in a playoff match where Seattle completely dominated as the away side. In the playoffs, Lodeiro had two goals and five assists, a massive output only overshadowed by the ridiculous things Ruidíaz did. Nico Lodeiro is a force of beautiful soccer.
What I didn’t like: In Seattle’s lowest rated match of the year, Nico had his worst rating in his Sounders history, earning his only below average score in 2019 against RSL away. This 5-3-2 setup led to an 0-3 loss and Nico never looked comfortable, completing a dismal 1/15 passes into or near the penalty area. Seattle was bad in this match and Lodeiro struggled. It was one of the only situations where Nico’s remarkable work rate worked against Seattle, as their deep backline and dual forward setup left the midfield hopelessly outnumbered. With Lodeiro trying to run more to make up for it, he found himself taken advantage of, as this time a team finally punished the Sounders for allowing Nico so much positional flexibility. Like Raúl, Nico needs to be more adaptable when the coaching staff tinkers with lineups and formations, as 2020 looks to have a ton of fixture congestion and possibly lineup turnover week to week. It’s not a big issue, especially with someone of Lodeiro’s ability, but worth watching.
Moving forward: Nico is in his prime, playing as well in the middle of the field as anyone in the league. He routinely outplayed everyone else joining him on the field and produced positive action for Seattle throughout 2019 in every match. His next challenge will be to translate this production to the Concacaf Champions League, a competition where the Sounders will likely go as far as Nico can take them. It’s possible they’ll sign a big-time central midfielder and move Lodeiro back to right wing in 2020, but it’s more likely that Nico suits up in the center of the field and again pulls the strings offensively for a team that should be one of the best in the league. Adding a quality offensive player that can play off him will only increase his effectiveness, as he has shown the ability to deal with triple teams. Seattle has done well to build the team around Nico, and hopefully will continue to add high-quality pieces to accentuate his incredible skills.