Nicolas Lodeiro's diligence, desire has taken Seattle to the brink of MLS Cup

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Re-live the road to MLS Cup 2016. (1:20)

TORONTO, Canada -- Nicolas Lodeiro doesn't necessarily look like the studious sort. On the field, he runs about at a frenetic pace, as if his hyper-drive is permanently engaged. Yet there is very much a method to the apparent madness of "King Nico."

Lodeiro studies everything.

Before joining the Seattle Sounders from Argentine side Boca Juniors, he watched the Sounders' 10 previous games to get a better sense of his new team and the league. During the Copa America, he brought his family with him to make sure they had a sense of what the U.S. was like. He also sought out the advice of Boca manager Guillermo Barros Schelotto, a former MLS MVP, who just so happened to lead the Columbus Crew to an MLS Cup and Supporters' Shield double in 2008.

When it comes to his career, Lodeiro leaves nothing to chance.

"First of all, I don't have an agent, and the decision has to be mine," he said with the help of a translator. "The one who is going to be playing and living in the U.S. is going to be me, and I was in a club that obviously played at a high level. There was no need for me to go anyplace else. I was happy at Boca. I had to really convince myself that it was the appropriate thing to do, to leave Boca behind and come to Seattle.

"It's fundamental to have to look at things and make the right decision, not only for myself but my family as well."

Lodeiro's research and preparation have paid off. When he arrived, Seattle was wallowing in ninth place in the Western Conference. While the return of defender Roman Torres and the steady hand of manager Brian Schmetzer helped turn around what was looking like a lost season, it is Lodeiro who has provided much of what the Sounders were missing: a dynamic No. 10 who could unlock defenses with precision passing and the occasional goal.

His four goals and eight assists saw him garner the Newcomer of the Year award despite making just 13 regular season starts -- less than half a season's worth of work. He's done much of it while star forward Clint Dempsey has been sidelined with a heart ailment. Including the playoffs, Seattle has gone 12-3-4 since Lodeiro first suited up for the Sounders. Now Seattle is one game away from claiming the MLS Cup trophy that has been the club's obsession since starting MLS play in 2009.

"Nico got here in the nick of time," said Seattle GM Garth Lagerwey.

So has Lodeiro always been so serious about studying?

"At first I was; I was a good student," he says with a grin reminiscent of a kid who has been caught staying out on the playground too long. "But then I started to play soccer, and I left that behind."

He's been doing the same to opponents in a career that has seen the Uruguayan play in the Netherlands, Brazil, Argentina and now the U.S. And Lodeiro's meticulous nature is fused with an astonishing work ethic. Given Lodeiro's 5-foot-7, 152 pound frame, that is how it has had to be, the better to evade the attentions of opposition defenders intent on stopping him fairly or unfairly.

"I was always one of the shortest, but what helped me a lot was I always had the passion and always give 100 percent, and I always tried to better myself, to always learn good technique and have all the desire to win," he said.

That effort isn't lost on his teammates, either. Midfielder Cristian Roldan noted that Lodeiro leads the team in distance covered in just about every game.

"Lodeiro finds his spots really well," said Roldan. "We can say that he's a good player and finds the right ball in the final third and scores goals and gets assists, but for me, what separates him from most guys is his ability to find those spots and run for 90 minutes."

Lodeiro's influence has extended into all facets of the Sounders team. Becoming a winning side requires immense effort from all involved, of course, but a player like Lodeiro can inspire others, resulting in those few extra percentage points of effectiveness that often determine whether a game is won or lost.

"Lodeiro is a serious personality. He's a true pro, and if your best player is your hardest worker, it's really tough for people to hide," said Lagerwey. "You don't have a lot of choice but to follow along.

"[Lodeiro has] been a tremendous influence on the field that way. In the locker room, he's been really calming, really professional, really competitive influence. He's been a role model for the guys and he competes every game day in and day out. He's been a really good influence on the young guys."

Lodeiro hasn't hesitated to take on a leadership role as well. That can be a tricky path to navigate, the new guy coming in and showing no hesitation in ruffling feathers. One story from shortly after his arrival saw him turn down the music in the locker room just before taking the field against Orlando. It's one of those things that could backfire, but Lodeiro's teammates knew his heart was in the right place.

"To me, I thought it was appropriate that it was the right time to turn the music down and get the team to concentrate on the game itself," he said. "That's my personality. I'm a normal person outside of the field, outside of the locker room. But put me in the locker room, and I try to better each little detail so we can win."

It's clear now that Lodeiro did his homework in all manner of ways. Now he's just one final exam away from being an MLS Cup champion.