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Nico Lodeiro’s return punctuated by spectacular goal

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Lodeiro is returning in time to help the Sounders push for silverware.

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

Nicolas Lodeiro’s 25-minute appearance against Tigres in Leagues Cup on Tuesday was highlighted by a moment of brilliance in the 70th minute when he dropped a 30-yard golazo past goalkeeper Miguel Ortega. It was a moment in which the Seattle Sounders captain announced his return to the team — and Major League Soccer.

Still, it’s a long way from where he and the Sounders expect him to be.

Incredible as the moment was, Lodeiro is not yet 90 minutes fit. This cuts both ways: The Sounders were able to more than handle Lodeiro’s absence, recent struggles aside. But the MLS season is beyond its midpoint, and Lodeiro has some catching up to do. With less than hour of competitive game time — nearly half of which came in early May — Lodeiro is late to the 2021 party, and when you’re running behind, that means shaving in the car and grabbing something from the fridge to eat on the way.

And maybe taking some liberties with the speed limits.

Schmetzer admitted as much after the Tigres match, noting that Lodeiro’s surprising return a game earlier was borne of a desire to give a struggling team a boost.

“We kind of bent the rules against Dallas,” Schmetzer said. “Maybe Dallas was a little premature, but I felt having him on the bench would be a lift for the team. I wasn’t necessarily planning for him to play in the match but the way the game progressed we took a little bit of a risk by putting him on the field.”

That said, the appearance was only 10 minutes, and this would be roughly the way his progression would go, if this was actually preseason, according to Schmetzer.

“Normally when you go through a preseason — because Nico needs a preseason — you start with 30 minutes or 45 minutes for your first runout, then you go 60 then you go 75 then you build minutes to 90,” Schmetzer said. “That’s what happens in a normal preseason. Nico is in his preseason. So for me to get the quality and the minutes tonight was a double bonus.”

That bonus was amplified not just in the goal, but the fact that Lodeiro was able to take some punishment in the game and come through with no issues.

“I’m a pretty tempered guy, but inside when I saw Nico score, I was so happy for Nico,” Schmetzer said. “But then it was a play a little bit before, somebody tackled him from behind. And that was almost as important as him scoring that goal because it gave him the confidence [that] ‘I’m healthy, I’m back.’

“And that to me was just as vital as his golazo.”

The goal was certainly something of a statement of intent for Lodeiro, and validation that the surgery and rehabilitation has been worth it.

“What came to my mind was all the people who helped me during this time while I was out,” Lodeiro said. “It was a long time, and this was the type of thing that gives me back the confidence. If you put in the hard work, you get rewarded.

“I know I need more time, more games, more football [but] physically I feel good.”

Coming through the game with a goal and no physical issues may make it tempting to start Lodeiro on the weekend against rival Portland, but Schmetzer says they’ll take his health and other considerations into play before taking the next step.

“He’s close [and] we’ve got to make a good decision,” Schmetzer said. “We’ve got to build his minutes up [because] he’s our franchise player, but I’m not going to hesitate to start him if he feels good. I’m not going to hesitate to bring him on if the game’s not going our way at halftime. He’s going to play significant minutes.

“We’ve got three games next week so I’ve got to be careful with him.”