To understand how the Uruguayan playmaker has so impacted the culture of the Sounders in such a short period of time, what’s most instructive is actually the silence.
In assessing the impact of a new player on a locker room’s culture, it’s often helpful to pick through the noise.
Comb through interviews for hints about their personality, say, or ask the guy in the next stall about pre-game superstitions and habits.
Was there some kind of speech? Did he break a chair or clipboard for emphasis?
To understand how Nicolas Lodeiro has so influenced the Sounders’ culture in such a short period of time, though, what’s most instructive is actually the silence.
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The Uruguayan playmaker had officially been a Sounder for only three days before the home match against the L.A. Galaxy on July 31. He’d been unveiled with much fanfare as a new Designed Player signing that previous Wednesday, participated in his first practice the next morning.
What initially stuck out to his teammates was Lodeiro’s humility, the lack of airs about a player who’d participated in two World Cups and just finished up a deep run in South America’s famed Copa Libertadores. His English wasn’t great but improved rapidly even during that first week and, hey, at least he made an effort.
Those first impressions made it all the more surprising when, shortly before kickoff against the Galaxy, Lodeiro strolled confidently to the stereo filling the home locker room with pump-up music, shut it off and walked calmly back to his stall.
His rationale – that background noise is a distraction, and it was time to focus – was less important than what happened next.
No alpha veteran pulled him aside for a lesson in listen, buddy, that’s not how we do it around here. Nobody made a move to turn the sound-system back on. The music stayed off, as his been the case for a few minutes before every game since.
“I don’t think we’d ever done that,” second-year midfielder Cristian Roldan said. “We all respected him enough to not say anything. It was kind of a tradition to keep it on, but I think we all respected him already.”
Timing also played a role as to why Lodeiro’s act of equal parts confidence and petulance drew nothing more than a collective shrug.
Lodeiro’s first game was also Brian Schmetzer’s first as interim head coach. Both of them stepped into a vacuum created by the departure of Sigi Schmid, the only figurehead the MLS club had ever known. The Sounders were at something close to rock bottom of their entire existence, in ninth place out of 10 in the Western Conference and double-digit points out of the playoff race.
If ever there were a time to step in and immediate affect change, this was it.
Lodeiro’s performances from that Galaxy game onward have only added further credibility.
Though he didn’t register on the scoresheet, Lodeiro was one of the best players on the field that day at CenturyLink. He’s notched either a goal or assist in every one of his six appearances since, scoring late game-tying goals in both Houston and San Jose to save a pair of points.
“I don’t think he has to say too much to be a presence in the locker room,” goalkeeper Stefan Frei said. “I think his game speaks for itself.”
During an off day following the 3-1 home win against the Timbers last month, Schmetzer was surprised to spot both Lodiero and fellow Uruguayan Alvaro Fernandez working out at Starfire, working to get up to speed with their new teammates.
“I made sure that Cristian and some of the young guys found out that they were in on their off days,” Schmetzer said. “He’s leading by example as well as integrating himself both on and off the field.”
Lodeiro’s English, too, has rapidly improved since that first week – a significant factor not just in adjusting to life in the United States but in bridging a locker room sometimes divided between native- and non-native speakers.
“He started taking classes and by the third or fourth game, he was speaking all English,” Roldan said. “For me, that’s extremely important, and it’s awesome that he made the effort to do that. It shows a lot of character.”
There remains work to be done. After a five-game unbeaten run at the beginning of Lodeiro’s tenure and Schmetzer’s time in charge, Seattle fell to a 4-2 defeat in Portland and is now three games winless. His stats have still been there, but Lodeiro has been less influential in the absence of Clint Dempsey with less room to work.
As Lodeiro himself made clear after the draw in San Jose, his first objective when he was brought in was to qualify for the playoffs. If the Sounders fall short, a lot of this will have been in vain.
Yet he’s also under contract through 2019. At 27, Lodeiro is still well within his prime. Even if the Sounders are forced to make significant changes in the offseason, the Uruguayan has quickly established himself as a building block.
That stereo isn’t turning back on anytime soon.
“It’s an influx of new, fresh ideas,” Frei said. “Obviously, Schmetzer is in full control. The shakeup, with a new coach and bringing in a few new players, it’s just kind of freshened things up and given us a bit of a spark.
“People will listen to (Lodeiro), because we respect what he has to say. What he brings to the team is huge.”