TUKWILA, Wash. – Nicolas Lodeiro is familiar with the notion of a second-half surge.
The Seattle Sounders midfielder is the architect behind one of the greatest midseason turnarounds in MLS history, which he spearheaded after he first arrived in MLS halfway through 2016. That year, following a 6-12-2 start, the Sounders rattled off an 8-2-2 stretch to close the season after the Uruguayan playmaker debuted in late July. They eventually rode the historic surge to their first-ever MLS Cup title.
This year, Lodeiro and company will need to pull some similar tricks. Seattle are currently mired in a 3-8-3 start to their 2018 campaign, leaving them 11 points below the playoff line headed into this Saturday’s massive Cascadia Cup clash (4:30 pm ET | FOX, full TV & streaming info) with the Portland Timbers at CenturyLink Field.
“It’s a very similar situation,” Lodeiro told reporters through a translator at Seattle’s training session on Thursday. “But I still believe we have [more of a chance] now than we had then. That time it was a little [later in the season]. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have to put pressure now because it is a very difficult situation we’re in right now. We need to win points.
“We don’t have many more chances to miss points,” he added. “We have to win this game in front of our crowd.”
To replicate those 2016 exploits, a healthy and motivated Lodeiro will be pivotal. The 29-year-old remains the unquestioned engine to Seattle’s attack, with his pinpoint passing and relentless work rate as crucial as ever to the team’s success.
But he’s also in the midst of a difficult campaign on multiple fronts. A toe injury slowed him for much of the first part of the season, and he was also a late cut from Uruguay’s 23-man roster for the World Cup – a disappointing turn of events for a player who has taken great pride in representing his country throughout his career and made no secret of his desire to do so in Russia this summer.
For his part, he's taking the high road. Lodeiro said he was “very, very happy” with how his country has performed when he was asked about Uruguay’s World Cup squad on Thursday, adding that he feels as though they have enough to hang with Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal when the sides meet in their Round of 16 fixture on Saturday.
“We have a great team,” he said. “Now they just need to keep giving everything we have so we can beat Portugal in the next [round].”
It remains to be seen whether any of this season’s setbacks will have a long-term impact on Lodeiro’s play at the club level, but he did his part to put those concerns to rest with a distance golazo he scored in his first game back from Uruguay camp – a 2-1 win for Seattle over D.C. United on June 9.
Going forward, the Sounders can only hope their star playmaker can continue to recapture that 2016 magic. Their season could depend on it.
“There is no doubt in my mind that Nico Lodeiro has the highest character,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said. “Whatever team he is playing for he will give it his utmost whether that is Uruguay or the Seattle Sounders, there is no doubt that that is going to happen. He’s committed to the team. He might need time to process a few things, but he’s still going to go out and do the work on the field. I have no question that he will do [that].”