Opta Spotlight - DL image

If you ever wanted proof that soccer was a game of two halves, look no further than Seattle's 2016 season. A slow start ended with the departure of the only man to ever coach the Sounders in MLS, Sigi Schmid. Schmid left behind a 6-12-2 record – good enough for 20 points and a points-per-game ratio of exactly one.


The following 14 games saw the Sounders go 8-2-4, doubling their points per game to two, and collect 28 points. Now they are just two games away from reaching MLS Cup, which would be the first in the team’s history.


The change in fortunes between the first and second segment of the season is reflected neatly in the team’s goals, shots and shots on target figures:

Opta Spotlight: What makes Sounders' No. 10 Nicolas Lodeiro so special? - https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/styles/image_default/s3/images/lod_wowy.png

The crucial change on the field during that period has been the arrival of Nicolas Lodeiro.


The Uruguayan playmaker has been a hit so far in his MLS career, propelling his team into the Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs and ranking in the top 5 in terms of assists per 90:

Opta Spotlight: What makes Sounders' No. 10 Nicolas Lodeiro so special? - https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/styles/image_default/s3/images/assists_lod.png

Nico’s in great company here, alongside some of the more serial string-pullers in MLS. He also joined the league past the midway point, and played 93 percent of the regular-season minutes available to him – an excellent return and exactly what you want from a Designated Player.


Looking at all passes that lead to shots (and not just goals), Lodeiro is inside the top 10 again:

Opta Spotlight: What makes Sounders' No. 10 Nicolas Lodeiro so special? - https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/styles/image_default/s3/images/kp_lod.png

Lodeiro sits sixth on this list, alongside some of the elite chance creators in the league. Sacha Kljestan tops the pile, and the areas the Red Bulls man operates in are similar to those of Lodeiro.


Studying the two touch maps below, Lodeiro and Kljestan are players who definitely don’t stick in one area of the field. In these maps, the darker the hexagon, the greater the number of touches in that area.

Opta Spotlight: What makes Sounders' No. 10 Nicolas Lodeiro so special? - https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/styles/image_default/s3/images/Kljestan.png
Opta Spotlight: What makes Sounders' No. 10 Nicolas Lodeiro so special? - https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/styles/image_default/s3/images/Lodeiro.png

As you can see, both share a long dark band of activity at the top of the opponent’s defensive third. This is a nightmare for defenders. Lodeiro has shown that he can pop up anywhere with the ball on the field – testing a back line's ability to communicate and stop him from doing considerable damage.


In the upcoming Western Conference Championship series vs. Colorado, it will be interesting to see with whom Lodeiro links up with to create chances. The chart below maps out his chance creation during the regular season. Red lines are assists.

Opta Spotlight: What makes Sounders' No. 10 Nicolas Lodeiro so special? - https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/styles/image_default/s3/images/Lod_assists_1.png

Jordan Morris, who is racing against time to recover from a hamstring issue for Tuesday's first leg at CenturyLink Field, would be missed in any context. Considering how well Lodeiro connected with Morris, the onus is on the rest of the team to really fill that void.


Should the Sounders struggle in this series and fail to make it all the way to the final, there is still some good news, however.


Lodeiro had a career year in MLS, matching his historical per-season goal and scoring records. He had the fifth-best year of any Sounder ever in terms of goals and assists per 90 – behind only Obafemi Martins’ and Clint Dempsey’s 2014 and 2015 campaigns. He's also just 27 years old – about to enter his peak.


Lodeiro's 2016 campaign is by no means done. But if this is what he can do in less than half a season, imagine what a full season of Nico might look like?