No pressure for Nico Lodeiro.
The Sounders FC captain simply needs to slip back into the starting lineup, grab hold of the reins from center midfield and get Seattle back on a winning streak. The Sounders would also prefer that to begin Saturday, starting with a road matchup against the Columbus Crew.
“He makes our team tick in many ways,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said.
Lodeiro did leave the Sounders (8-5-5) at a loss when he joined his Uruguayan national team in May. He helped lead the country to a quarterfinal finish in the Copa America tournament held in Brazil.
While away – with at one point nine other teammates also playing with their national teams – variations of inexperienced Sounders lineups have lost three of their past four MLS games. Overall this season, Seattle is on an eight-match winless streak on the road.
Lodeiro, who leads the Sounders with eight assists, will be in the starting lineup against the Crew. After last week’s Copa America loss, he joined Seattle in New York but wasn’t selected for the eventual 3-0 loss to NYCFC due to the approximate 15-hour flight from Brazil.
Schmetzer said Saturday won’t show any wear on Lodeiro despite another flight, although shorter.
“He’s fresh as a daisy,” Schmetzer said. “Nico didn’t play in the last couple of games for Uruguay after starting the first two and playing well, scoring a great goal. That makes him really anxious to prove to everybody that he’s deserved of playing time for his national team and playing well for the Seattle Sounders.”
What the Sounders have lacked in their past outings is solid play in their attack. Even veteran Kelvin Leerdam admitted after a home win against Vancouver on June 29 the Sounders basically weren’t utilizing a center midfield. His winning goal was during a frenzied stoppage time.
Individually, many of the second-choice Sounders players have shined. Still, for midfielder Joevin Jones, midfielder Henry Wingo, forward Justin Dhillon and defender Xavier Arreaga, the start Wednesday against NYCFC was just their second of the season. And only Wingo, a homegrown player from Lake Forest Park, has trained with the club longer than six months – Jones returning to the Sounders after a two-year stint playing in Germany.
First-choice forward Raul Ruidiaz remains with his Peruvian national team, which will face Brazil in the Copa America final on Sunday. Sounders forward Jordan Morris and midfielder Cristian Roldan helped lead the U.S. to the Gold Cup final, where it will play Mexico on Sunday.
Schmetzer’s constant juggling might prove beneficial to the club later if calling on a reserve is needed. And Seattle remains in good standing among Western Conference teams, tied for fourth with Dallas FC (29 points).
Columbus (5-12-2) is 11th in the Eastern Conference standings. The Crew is also missing key players – due to Gold Cup duty – and looking for a spark from its bench.
“The bottom line is that the guys are fighting and giving all that they have,” said Columbus coach Caleb Porter for the team’s website. “This is another game that we have to fight and grind. We have to figure out who can get the job done for us. And then after this game, we know we will have six or seven new guys in.”