TUKWILA, Wash. – When the Seattle Sounders announced the signing of Spanish midfielder Victor Rodriguez in early August, it wasn’t a foregone conclusion that he would command starter’s minutes right away.
Yes, the 28-year-old winger brought some impressive pedigree with him to Seattle, including four years in Barcelona’s youth academy followed by a lengthy stint in Spain’s top flight. But the Sounders also already seemed to have an established first-choice attack, with Rodriguez arriving in MLS as an intriguing but unproven commodity.
All of that changed in an instant, however, with last week’s news that 2016 MLS Rookie of the Year Jordan Morris will be sidelined for weeks with a hamstring strain suffered in Seattle’s 1-1 draw against the LA Galaxy on Sept. 10. It’s an injury that leaves a gaping hole in Seattle’s front four -- and all eyes are now on Rodriguez as a key face tasked with filling it.
“It’s unfortunate Jordan was injured but we’re a team with lots of good players,” Rodriguez told MLSsoccer.com through a translator after Seattle’s practice at Starfire Sports Complex on Thursday. “Obviously he’s a very good player and it’s difficult to replace him but we have a lot of good players that adapt to challenges and a strong bench that we can call on many players to do that.
“I’m ready [to fill in] and I’m happy to be here. My teammates took me in, as well as the training staff, so that makes things much easier.”
Rodriguez may not be the physically imposing presence that Morris is, standing at just 5-foot-7 and 154 pounds. But in his four MLS games since making his team debut on Aug. 23, he’s also showed undeniable flashes of the shiftiness, creativity and devastating set-piece delivery that drew the Sounders to him in the first place.
Specifically, Rodriguez said he’s pleased with the ever-developing chemistry he’s forging on the practice field with fellow attackers Clint Dempsey and Nicolas Lodeiro – who he says share his creative style and improvisational tendencies.
“It’s going well,” he said. “Dempsey and Nico, they like to touch-and-go and that style, that’s the type of game that I like. There are other players too [in the midfield], like Osvaldo [Alonso] and Cristian [Roldan], they’re very capable as well.”
The next step for the Sounders is figuring out how to translate all of that into consistent statistical output. Rodriguez hasn’t found the score sheet or tallied an assist in his 228 MLS minutes so far, something he’ll look to remedy starting with Seattle’s upcoming Western Conference bout with Real Salt Lake on Saturday (9:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE).
“[MLS] is a very competitive league,” Rodriguez said. “It’s clear that most of the games are decided by small little details. It’s a really competitive league and you’ve got to be able to stay focused in order to win games.
“It’s certainly a physical league. But when it comes to the final third, there’s also players with lots of talent. It’s not just the physicality, there’s a lot of talent in the league as well.”