TUKWILA — Forget about tracking MLS standings; it’s the Sounders FC injury report that’s worth following as the team plays their final five matches of the season.
On Tuesday, players were greeted by midfielder Nico Lodeiro participating in partial training at Starfire Sports in Tukwila for the first time since he had a right knee arthroscopy on Sept. 20. Lodeiro was voted to the league’s Best XI team in 2020 and has been one of Seattle’s top-three scorers since signing in 2016.
“Nico is thankfully back on the field and he looks great,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said. “You saw the smile on his face. But (his return) is still a ways away.”
Lodeiro’s procedure was the second on the knee this season. His first was in May, and the Uruguayan was able to make eight appearances across all competitions, recording one goal and one assist.
But after playing 90 minutes in back-to-back matches against Portland and Minnesota, Lodeiro aggravated the knee at training and underwent the second procedure to “clean up” what was causing discomfort.
Also nearing a return is forward Jordan Morris. He tore his left ACL while on loan to Swansea City AFC in February. Morris, who was named to the 2020 Best XI team, hasn’t appeared in any MLS matches this season.
Schmetzer reiterated Morris is on a “medical timeline” where he has to participate in a required amount of full trainings without complications before making a game appearance. But that will likely be before the postseason begins Nov. 20.
And that brought a smile to Schmetzer’s face.
“I’m hopeful that the doctors see him like we see him, and they might fudge on that, but you never know,” Schmetzer said of Morris’ strong performance in training. Part of the club’s medical staff is Morris’ father, Michael.
Sounders forward Will Bruin said he is impressed with how the team has succeeded without two of their stars. Seattle (17-6-6) plays the Colorado Rapids at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park on Wednesday.
A win or draw against the third-place Rapids (14-6-9) clinches one of the top four slots in the MLS Western Conference playoff bracket for the Sounders. The Rapids can secure a postseason berth with a win against Seattle.
Colorado is riding a 14-match unbeaten streak at home. The Rapids conceded three opening-half goals in a 3-0 loss to the Sounders at Lumen Field earlier this month. But Colorado hasn’t lost to Seattle at home in the last three meetings.
“This is a playoff-level game, so we have to show that we’re up for the challenge,” Rapids forward Jonathan Lewis told reporters.
With 57 points, the Sounders remain first in the West despite losing at Houston on Saturday. The No. 1 seeds in the East and West receive a first-round bye and home-field advantage through the conference championship match.
“It’s obviously not the result we wanted in Houston, but it didn’t really backfire on us,” said Bruin of second-place Sporting Kansas City (52 points) and Colorado (51 points) also losing last weekend and no team having a game in hand.
“A lot of crazy stuff happens in the playoffs,” Bruin continued. “If we can get first in the West, we could still end up second (overall) and still host MLS Cup (if New England loses in the Eastern bracket). … As we inch forward toward full health and full availability, this is going to be a really, really dangerous team.”
Colorado could mathematically finish first in the West, so the club likely isn’t regretting trading midfielder Nico Benezet to the Sounders in August.
Benezet joined the Rapids in 2020. He started six of his 23 appearances and recorded four assists in his logged 775 minutes.
With the Sounders, Benezet has started four of his 10 appearances and recorded three goals and an assist in 389 minutes across all competitions.
The Frenchman quickly became a fan favorite in Seattle with his social media banter and pop culture references for celebrations. A joyfulness he didn’t have in Colorado, thus welcoming the trade.
Benezet had an appreciation for the Sounders after starting for Toronto FC in the MLS Cup at Lumen Field in November 2019. Seattle had a record 69,274 fans in attendance for the win.
“I needed to move, and I think Seattle was the best place for me,” Benezet said. “I feel free when I am doing (those) celebrations or doing some (trash talking) on Twitter and I feel like I am free. That’s all I wanted.”
Ruidiaz, Smith still out
Schmetzer denied reports stating Sounders striker Raul Ruidiaz opted to remain in his native Peru until November to rehabilitate his left hamstring injury. Ruidiaz honored a national team call-up for the FIFA World Cup qualifiers this month despite suffering the injury in the opening half of a win against San Jose on Sept. 29.
“He’ll be back to join up with us after this Colorado trip,” Schmetzer said. “He’s getting treatment with the Peruvian federation, that was the deal that we made with Raul. He can get some treatment there, he’s coming back up here, we’ll see him on Thursday.”
Ruidiaz remains tied for second in the league’s Golden Boot race with 16 scores even with missing the past three MLS matches. D.C. United forward Ola Kamara leads with 17 goals.
One player not making the trip with Seattle is left wingback Brad Smith.
The Australian collided with Bruin at a recent training and suffered a right AC joint sprain. He could be out until the road match against Los Angeles FC next week.