TUKWILA, Wash. – Was Seattle Sounders midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro subject to a second-year regression in 2017?
It might seem a silly question to pose about a guy who had seven goals and 12 assists this season. But following a transcendently dominant 2016 entry into MLS that saw him score four goals and bag eight assists in just 1,170 minutes following his midseason transfer from Boca Juniors, 2017 has proven tougher sledding for Seattle’s shifty Uruguayan playmaker.
“I’ve felt a lot more pressure,” Lodeiro told reporters after Seattle’s training session on Saturday. “[Opponents] are marking me a lot closer. I have to obviously take care of the ball and do something with it because I always have one or two players near me.”
To hear Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer tell it, though, the notion that there’s been a precipitous drop-off in Lodeiro’s play is overblown.
“Our team in general, not just Nico, but getting [Clint] Dempsey back in the mix and how those guys fit together with Victor [Rodriguez] now, I think that all was just going to take some time,” Schmetzer said this week. “Some people earlier in the year were saying, ‘Oh, Nico’s not the same.’ Well, he is the same. It’s just that teams have found ways, yes, to slow him down. But he’s still going to create opportunities. He’s still going to get his chances on goal, he’s still a big part of our team."
Aside from increased scouting, Lodeiro has also endured a more physical approach by his opponents this season. The 28-year-old was the league’s most-fouled player by no small margin, with 110 fouls committed against him.
“He’s the most-fouled guy in the league and I think that’s slowed him down, [teams] have attempted to do that,” Schmetzer said. “I think we’ve played a little bit better as of late, so some of that adjustment period from his first six months to a full season, I think he’s figured some of that out.”
Lodeiro said that physicality is something that he’s learned to deal with.
“You prepare yourself for that,” he said. “You know that a lot of games are just going to be like that, where they’re going to try to foul me. So, I have to be prepared.”
It’s also something that Lodeiro might very well have to deal with again as the Sounders take on the Houston Dynamo in the Western Conference Championship of the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs -- a series that pits him against a pair of formidable defensive midfielders in Ricardo Clark and Juan David Cabezas.
Coming off international duty with Uruguay that he says has helped keep him sharp during the 19-day break following the conference semifinals, Lodeiro says he’s ready for the challenge.
“I didn’t have a lot of rest, I was playing with the national team and you have to be prepared,” Lodeiro said. “Even though I didn’t get to play a lot, I was there and I was practicing and that helped me to be prepared for [this series]. It helps you a lot. The games are at a high level. If you prepare yourself at a high caliber, you’re always prepared to play [at the club level].