Nicolas Lodeiro, Brian Schmetzer sparking Sounders’ turnaround

Aug 15, 2016, 11:00 AM | Updated: 11:06 am

In his post-match comments, Real Salt Lake head coach Jeff Cassar said that the team the Sounders put on the pitch Sunday was very different from the one he faced back in March. He said it seemed like a complete “mentality” shift, and that the Sounders were far more aggressive and composed this time around. It’s not too hard to pinpoint the reasons for the Sounders’ much improved play in the past three matches, including their 2-1 win on Sunday: midfiedler Nicolas Lodeiro and head coach Brian Schmetzer.

The latter is unflappably humble when asked about his effect on the team, but his influence on the players and the style of the squad is abundantly clear. It’s also quite true that his influence wouldn’t have had such a noticeable effect without Lodeiro’s creativity and ability. He’s the only player on the team that can play all over the attack without skipping a beat, an aspect that Cassar said made Lodeiro extremely hard to prepare for heading into this match.

Aside from his goal and assist on Sunday, Lodeiro’s stats underscore just how influential he is to the team – though it’s hard to quantify it in the same way you would with his teammates. His passing accuracy, for instance, is the second-worst on the team at 77.1 percent. But this is only because he attempted the most passes on the entire team with 70. In fact, he had more successful passes than all but four of his teammates. He also led the entire pitch (all 22 players) in total touches with 100. That’s six more than Clint Dempsey and Jordan Morris combined. Lodeiro was everywhere on the pitch – left, right, center, forward, deep, everywhere.

It shouldn’t surprise that Lodeiro also led the entire pitch in chances created with six, one of which became the assist for Morris’ goal. His domination is underscored even more in that he again led the entire pitch in attacking-third passes and successful crosses and tied teammate Cristian Roldan for the lead in shots on target with two.

The manner that Schmetzer has deployed Lodeiro has been phenomenal as well – not that it takes much to coach a player of his quality, but just putting him on the pitch with the right players in the right formation to foster success deserves commendation. Instead of the ineffective 4-3-3 that the Sounders had tried with previous coach Sigi Schmid for much of the season, Schmetzer has instituted a more rigid 4-2-3-1 that protects the defense but gives Lodeiro two or three weapons in front of him at all times. Osvaldo Alonso and Roldan are pinned back during most of the match, and all four attackers are tasked with pressuring high up the pitch to force turnovers and get the ball to Lodeiro.

This game plan, while it does put a lot on the shoulders of a brand-new player, clearly has the effect of instilling confidence in the entire squad because they know what Lodeiro can do. There was some hesitancy in that first match against the Galaxy, but after the team got used to Lodeiro and saw what he could do, the mentality change was clear. When you know your teammate can do what Lodeiro does and that he’s completely dedicated to getting the ball to the attackers in dangerous areas, you do everything you can to help him make it happen. For most of this season, the Sounders had no creative identity and were desperate for opportunities because they had no idea from where they were going to appear.

That confidence brings out the best in an entire squad. It’s no coincidence that Dempsey had his best performance of the season last weekend against Orlando, and guys like Andreas Ivanschitz and Roldan are finally coming into their own in the past couple matches. Brad Evans even said in his post-match comments that Lodeiro “pushes the guys around him to be better.” The Sounders captain also said that he doesn’t even think Lodeiro is totally used to things in Seattle yet, and that “we’re still yet to see the best of him, and that’ll come in the coming weeks.”

Considering the next two matches are a home-and-away against the Sounders’ biggest rival, Portland, an even more improved Lodeiro could completely change their season. It’s fair to say that Sunday’s Sounders performance could be good enough for one defeat of the Timbers. Anything better and they could go two for two wins over Portland to launch themselves closer to playoff contention.

Spenser Davis also covers the Sounders for Sounder at Heart.

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