TUKWILA, Wash. – When Nicolas Lodeiro is on the soccer field, he never stops.
The Seattle Sounders’ 30-year-old Uruguayan playmaker is wreaking havoc once again in the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs, racking up two goals and four assists in three matches to help spearhead Seattle to their third MLS Cup Final in four years.
As his Sounders teammates and coaches will attest, however, there’s much more to Lodeiro’s game than just the production on the stat sheet. From minute one to minute 90, every single game and throughout every single practice, Lodeiro is always buzzing, bringing as much energy on the defensive side of the ball as he does in the attack.
It’s that all-around skillset and legendary work rate that makes the midfielder such a unique asset, and it’s a key reason the Sounders are hosting MLS Cup for the first time at CenturyLink Field against Toronto FC on Nov. 10 (3 pm ET | ABC, Univision, TUDN, TVAS, TSN).
“He’s amazing, man. I mean that almost literally,” Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey said on Friday. “When your DP – the guy who’s your best player – is your hardest worker, that sets a tone that nobody else can replicate. You cannot come out here in training on a day-to-day basis and hide, because he’s out there. He’s out there and he’s working.
“He’s just relentless. He never stops. It is a force that always has to be accounted for in any game against any opponent. That, I think, is really, really tough to give enough credit and weight to. Because I think he is the absolute force that drives us on and off the field, and it’s a credit to him,” Lagerwey added.
While he’s not the only factor in play, it’s no coincidence that the Sounders’ recent run of final appearances started immediately as soon as Lodeiro arrived to Seattle on a Designated Player contract from Argentine powerhouse Boca Juniors halfway through 2016.
When he recalls the deal that led to Lodeiro’s arrival, Lagerwey said the thing that stands out most was his proactive nature about the idea of coming to Seattle and MLS. At the time, players of his pedigree in their prime didn’t come to the league with great frequency, and while the Sounders were hopeful throughout their process of courting him, they also knew pulling the deal off would be a lofty proposition.
In the end, Lodeiro’s mutual enthusiasm for the opportunity saw it through, and the Sounders have reaped the benefits ever since.
“He wanted to come here really badly,” Lagerwey said. “At that time, there just weren’t players like him, with the possible exception of [Sebastian] Giovinco, of that level that wanted to come to MLS. [Uruguay] were playing in Copa America and I called him and he couldn’t understand exactly what I said, so he put Luis Suarez on the phone, so Luis and I talked through what we were going to do with Nico.
“And I was like, ‘Ok, this guy really wants to come.’ He’s doing everything he can to make sure there’s no hiccups and this doesn’t get delayed or anything like that.”
With the Sounders’ attack firing on all cylinders heading into MLS Cup, Lodeiro is locked in as ever, with his dynamic performance in tandem with striker Raul Ruidiaz highlighting one of the most impressive wins in franchise history over LAFC.
“For a player like myself, I love playing with him,” winger Jordan Morris said on Saturday. “I think everyone’s lucky to have him on the team, but I definitely benefit from having him around because I like to make those runs and he just puts it right on your foot. He makes it easy for you. We’re lucky to have him and he’s an amazing player, but on top of that, he works really, really hard and he’s never stopping. He’s a leader out there, both with his work rate and inspiring guys.”
Lodeiro has also done his finest work in the most crucial circumstances.
His output from this year’s postseason gives him seven goals and six assists in 16 career MLS playoff matches, adding to a postseason resume that already includes a 2016 title and a follow-up MLS Cup appearance in 2017.
LAFC star Carlos Vela is the MLS MVP frontrunner for this season, and rightfully so, given his eye-popping stats. But when it comes to players in the league who are the most pivotal to their team’s success, Lodeiro has carved out as strong a case as anybody.
“He’s in his third final in four years,” said Lagerwey. “He’s on a trajectory to be one of the best players in MLS history at this point, certainly in Sounders history. But you wouldn’t know it if you asked him. If you asked him, I guarantee you he’s going to say, ‘I want to win on Sunday.’”