A long-awaited call was made Tuesday.
Sounders midfielder Nico Lodeiro has played a mere 27 minutes in Major League Soccer competitions this year due to a knee injury that needed surgery in May. A tournament game seemed an unlikely scenario for his most significant run of the season, but Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer substituted his captain into the Leagues Cup match in the 65th minute.
Liga MX side Tigres UANL must have forgot Lodeiro’s resume. He reminded everyone in the 70th minute when he dribbled downfield unmarked, pulling up for a left-footed shot about 35 yards from the goal. Tigres keeper Miguel Ortega couldn’t protect the upper corner, Lodeiro scoring and teammate Cristian Roldan getting the assist.
The shot iced an eventual 3-0 victory for the Sounders against Tigres in the home side’s Leagues Cup opener and debut. Seattle, which is 5-8-2 all-time against Liga MX teams, advances to face the winner of Thursday’s match between MLS side Orlando City and Liga MX side Santos Laguna. The semifinal match will be played in September.
As most of the 17,077 in attendance at Lumen Field cheered, Lodeiro took off his shoe to mimic a call to his late father. It’s the Uruguayan’s signature celebration after goals, yesterday’s call being Lodeiro’s first goal since the playoffs in November 2020.
“I admit, it was a long time, it was becoming a really long time,” Lodeiro said, as translated from Spanish, of returning from injury. “This is the type of thing that gives me back my confidence to show that you put in the hard work and you get rewarded. I still feel that I need to play more, play more minutes. But this is the type of reward when you work hard.”
Lodeiro replaced forward Fredy Montero on the field. For the second consecutive match, Montero scored seconds before being taken out of a game. He did so in a 1-1 draw against FC Dallas last week at Lumen Field.
Montero’s score in the 64th minute was off a corner kick from Joao Paulo and header service from Roldan.
Tigres traveled to Lumen Field with fresh hardware: the 2020 CONCACAF Champions League trophy and a runner-up finish in the FIFA Club World Cup.
Sounders forward Raul Ruidiaz, who played in Liga MX before signing with Seattle, didn’t flinch.
The Peruvian used a slick penalty kick in the 23rd minute to open the scoring for the Sounders.
Roldan’s hustle provided the opportunity for Seattle’s score. He worked in the box to gain possession of the ball, Tigres defender Erick Avalos cutting Roldan off in an obvious foul in the 22nd minute.
Ruidiaz lined up for the penalty kick as Ortega shuffled along the goal line. When Ruidiaz advanced for the shot, Ortega lunged right but Ruidiaz lofted the strike to the opposite side.
“During the week, I practiced and this is what I practiced,” Ruidiaz said as translated from Spanish. “It’s not a tease. It’s just what I practice and it resulted in a beautiful goal.
“My time in Mexico brings some experience, but the point is that we all practiced and worked during the week as a team. That’s the idea. We wanted to make sure the lines were organized and it was a hard match. Everything turned out well and I’m very happy with the result.”
Liga MX splits its season in half. Tigres are 1-1-1 to start the Apetura (Opening) portion of schedule and made seven lineup changes from their last match. They played without striker Andre-Pierre Gignac and defenders Guido Pizarro, Carlos Salcedo and Luis “Chaka” Rodríguez, the latter starting for Mexico in the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
But considering Seattle has played the bulk of the season without MVP candidates Jordan Morris (knee) and Lodeiro (knee) and is missing keeper Stefan Frei and All-Star defender Nouhou (adductor), the match could still be viewed as unbalanced.
The Leagues Cup debuted in 2019 as an invitation-only, 16-team tournament. It was canceled amid the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and returned as an eight-team tournament this year with matches hosted by MLS clubs. Each club — four per league — earned their place by finish in their respective leagues.
Tigres lost to Liga MX’s Cruz Azul in the 2019 final of Leagues Cup.
Gonzalo Pineda, a Sounders star turned assistant, is expected to be announced as Atlanta United coach, according to Sounder at Heart. Pineda, who signed a contract extension with Seattle last winter, wasn’t with the team for Tuesday’s match.
Rob Valentino is the current United coach. Pineda is expected to take over and finish the 2021 MLS season.
Schmetzer wouldn’t directly answer questions regarding Pineda’s whereabouts.
“Gonzo’s absence was intentional,” Schmetzer repeated.