Nicolas Lodeiro drew praise from Seattle Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer and his teammates on Tuesday night for leading the charge in a 2-1 win over the Colorado Rapids in Tuesday's first leg of the Western Conference final -- and also throughout their late-season surge.
Lodeiro's 61st-minute penalty secured the home win for the Sounders, and Schmetzer said the Uruguayan, who won the MLS Newcomer of the Year award earlier this week, has been a major influence on the Sounders' resurgence since he signed in July.
"He's a tremendous player," Schmetzer told reporters. "He's sparked us since he first arrived. He gave belief in the group. I think the underlying tone of belief was always there we just needed that spark and I think he gets a lot of credit that for that."
Lodeiro's goal, his fourth of the playoffs, made him the Sounders' career leading postseason scorer in just once campaign.
"It's a surprise because I didn't know that but it makes very happy," Lodeiro said of his new record. "It's similar to the [Newcomer of the Year] that I won this last week. It makes me feel very happy but, more importantly, it motivates me to prove that I'm really here to help the team out."
Striker Jordan Morris called Lodeiro "the heartbeat of the team."
"He's unbelievable," Morris said. "For me, what's so amazing about him is he can pick you out no matter where you are. I just make the runs and he picks me out. Obviously he's come in clutch with the goals in the playoffs. But he also works so hard defensively, going forward.
Morris, who drew the Sounders level in the first half, said there was no issue with the hamstring strain that prevented him from joining up with the United States squad over the recent international break.
"I felt great. I wanted to keep playing [tonight], so I think that's a good sign," Morris said. "The hamstring felt good, so no real issues with that."
The Sounders carry a slim lead to the away leg in Colorado, but Schmetzer said it was likely his team would push forward to find more goals.
"Since we've taken over, there's only one game where we haven't scored a goal," Schmetzer said. "2-1 to them [means] overtime. But there's a lot of scores -- 0-0, 1-1, 2-2 -- that go in our favor as well."
Rapids coach Pablo Mastroeni said he was satisfied with the scoreline with the target of an away goal achieved
"What we wanted was to come here and find that goal -- the road goal -- and I think the guys did a fantastic job in the first half of pushing the game at times," Mastroeni said. "We sit here today in a better situation than a couple of weeks ago against LA.
"I think it was a great start obviously coming to this place obviously with the many variables that make it difficult to play here. I thought the guys handled themselves professionally.
"In the second half, I thought the guys executed the game plan to a 'T'. I'm very pleased with the performance."