Sounders midfielder Victor Rodriguez hasn't started consecutive games since July, but went the full 90 minutes and scored a goal against Colorado on Saturday. His presence is needed by a Sounders team that could be without some top players next week.
Sounders midfielder Victor Rodriguez seemed even more reluctant and sheepish than he typically does when asked to discuss his on-field exploits.
Likely because the on-field stuff has been highly limited this year. The Spanish import, earning nearly $1.1 million in targeted allocation money, has spent more time off the field than on it after nagging knee and hamstring issues dating back to the end of last season.
So, as important as it was personally for Rodriguez to pop an otherwise meaningless late goal last Saturday in a rout of Colorado, he knows he’s still got plenty to prove to the team that brought him here a year ago last summer.
“I’ve had a hard season with a lot of injuries,’’ Rodriguez said. “I needed this game.’’
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For Rodriguez, who now has two goals in 2018, playing the full 90 minutes was likely as important as finding the back of the net. He’s gotten on the field in spurts when deemed healthy, but tends to break down over longer stretches and when asked to play consecutive matches.
He admits his confidence sank at times after missing the first three months of the season with a knee injury that refused to heal and later required arthroscopic surgery to determine whether something additional was involved. Then, not long after he made it back, he was again shelved, this time by a hamstring strain.
“I haven’t been at 100 percent,’’ he said. “I know I can do a little bit more. But it’s coming little by little, step by step.’’
For the Sounders, who snapped a two-game losing streak against the Rapids, the availability of Rodriguez could determine their 2018 fate. Fans caught a glimpse of what having the team’s international attacking trio of Rodriguez, Raul Ruidiaz and Nicolas Lodeiro on the field at the same time can mean.
The threesome accounted for all four Sounders goals and seven total points in the match. Another logjam atop the Western Conference – with the top six teams within eight points of each other — means the No. 5 Sounders could need to run the table their final four matches against sub-par opponents to secure a playoff spot, home playoff game, or even a still-possible first-round bye.
Rodriguez’s presence likely will also take on added meaning next Monday, when the Sounders play host to the Houston Dynamo. In another “made-by-MLS’’ moment, a scheduling quirk within the latest international break could deprive the Sounders of top-two attackers Lodeiro and Ruidiaz.
The game was initially scheduled for this Saturday, but moved to Monday back in May due to fears a Friday concert by Jay-Z and Beyonce would leave field conditions sub-optimal. A Sunday move wasn’t possible because the Seahawks play that day.
A statement put out by the Sounders on Monday said the move was “to ensure a clean field and the best possible conditions for the team.’’
The initial Saturday game date fell outside the FIFA window within which MLS teams must release players to national squads requesting them. But with the game Monday now within the window, the Sounders must negotiate with various national federations to keep their players longer.
And the national teams are under no obligation to oblige. It already was dicey as to whether the Sounders would have players return and be game-ready by their Oct. 17 match at Orlando City.
But now, the potential of top players missing half the team’s remaining four matches with the Sounders in a precarious playoff position was certainly not something the team envisioned in May.
Lodeiro is expected to play for Uruguay and Ruidiaz for Peru, while Kim Kee-hee could be called in by South Korea, Gustav Svensson by Sweden, Cristian Roldan by the U.S. Men’s National Team and Jordy Delem by Martinique. The potential loss of Lodeiro and Ruidiaz is the biggest concern, given the team’s offensive struggles when they aren’t in the lineup together.
While this scheduling conundrum will undoubtedly increase calls for the Sounders to seek out a home stadium where they are the prime tenant – and owner Adrian Hanauer purchasing a minority stake in the soon-to-be-confirmed Seattle NHL expansion squad at KeyArena makes a potential move to Seattle Center and Memorial Stadium an intriguing possibility – the immediate future requires keeping as many talented attackers on the field as possible.
And with Rodriguez, staying on the field remains a question mark. As dazzling as he’s been when healthy, his inability to stay that way – having not managed consecutive starts since July — has the team concerned heading into this final stretch.
The Sounders know they have the goaltending and defenders to contend for another MLS Cup. But the attack has been vulnerable the past two seasons and needs all the variety it can manage for the Sounders to have a shot.
And for now, with just three points separating the Sounders and No. 7 Los Angeles Galaxy, they could need that attack firing just to make the playoffs.
“It’s very important for me,’’ Rodriguez said of re-integrating within the attacking group. “I feel confidence with Nico (Lodeiro). I can play very easily with him or with Raul (Ruidiaz) or with Cristian (Roldan). Because we are smart players.’’
Smart players that win when together. The trick is pulling that feat off more than a game or two.