TUKWILA, Wash.—Seattle Sounders midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro has played in some big games before.
The 27-year-old came to Seattle from Boca Juniors, one of Argentina’s most high profile and historically successful clubs. He’s played in the Copa Libertadores – Latin America’s most prestigious tournament – and two World Cups as a member of Uruguay’s national team.
But with his first regular-season foray into MLS now in the books, Lodeiro is getting set for a whole new challenge: The 2016 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, which the Sounders kick off on Thursday in a Knockout Round fixture against Sporting Kansas City at CenturyLink Field (10pm ET; FS1, UniMás | TSN in Canada).
“[Playoffs] are a very unique thing,” said Lodeiro, through a translator following Seattle’s Wednesday practice at Starfire Sports Complex. “It’s one of those games where we live or we die. It’s exciting. It’s a good thing to be a part of. Playoffs are a concept that other players have experience with so the concept of [do-or-die] is something that we’re aware of.”
That the Sounders are in the playoffs at all can, in large part, be attributed to Lodeiro. Prior to his arrival, the Sounders were 6-12-2 and seemed likely to miss the postseason for the first time in their MLS history.
But since his team debut on July 31, Lodeiro has been arguably the league’s best player. He’s bagged four goals and added eight assists to spearhead a dramatic turnaround that ended with the Sounders clinching the Western Conference’s No. 4 seed.
“It makes me happy to see the way I’m performing is being noticed around the league,” Lodeiro said. “To know that the performance I’m putting out on the field is being noticed and being helpful.”
He and the Sounders will have to contend with at least two notable absences against SKC on Thursday: Forward Clint Dempsey was shut down for the season in August due to an irregular heartbeat and midfielder Andreas Ivanschitz will also be unavailable due to a sprained knee.
That means the success of the Sounders’ attack will rest squarely on the shoulders of Lodeiro and rookie striker Jordan Morris. The pair has struck up an impressive partnership in their time as co-workers so far, with the speedy Morris ending up as one of the biggest beneficiaries of Lodeiro’s ability to pick out runners and deliver pinpoint through balls.
“[Morris] is a player that wants to learn and that’s very, very important when you get a player with such talent like him,” Lodeiro said. “When I see him make errors or if there are errors that occur, I try to help him however I can. He’s passionate about the game. He wants to arrive to training early. Those kinds of qualities make the learning curve easier for players like him.”