Raúl Ruidíaz almost quit soccer.
The Seattle Sounders’ new Designated Player was 16 when he nearly walked away from the sport. He didn’t think he had a future in it. At only a diminutive 5-foot-7, he knew he was undersized for a prototypical target forward. His youth coach never gave him enough of a shot and told him he didn’t like the way he played. He was all but ready to explore being a doctor or another career outside of soccer, but decided to bet on himself instead.
“I thought about leaving football and studying,” Ruidíaz said. “But thank God I came back playing.”
Ruidíaz vs. Monterrey in 2017 | Reuters
Ruidíaz, now 27, began his career with Lima’s Universitario in Peru’s first division in 2009, but he began out wide as a winger. It wasn’t until two years later when striker Johan Fano was out due to injury that Ruidíaz was thrust into the lineup as No. 9. The club didn’t have another true forward, so Ruidíaz started in Fano’s stead and led Universitario to the Copa Sudamerica quarterfinals.
“I had played as a 9 in my youth so I said I could play as a 9,” Ruidíaz recalled. “I was the club’s leading goalscorer in Copa Sudamericana. And that’s how my career as a 9 started.”
Ruidíaz is as interesting off the pitch as he is talented on it. He is a massive Dragon Ball Z fan and dyed his hair blond to look more like the main character, Goku, in front of his son. He has a neck tattoo that says “Never lose hope,” in English, no less.
Ruidíaz also has a tattoo of his mother on his hand. He kisses it every time he scores, which has been in multitudes over the last few years. He’s been a revelation since joining Liga MX’s Morelia in 2016, recording an astounding 40 goals in just over 70 matches. He is a two-time Liga MX goalscoring champion and was named the 2016/17 Player of the Year and Forward of the Year.
His crowning achievement and legacy-sealing moment came against Monterrey on the final match of the 2017 Clausura season. Morelia, needing a win to stave off relegation, was leading 1-0 before an 84th minute penalty kick by Monterrey tied the match and all but sealed Morelia’s fate. But in the 91st minute, Ruidíaz slid and tallied the game-winner to keep Morelia afloat.
“I had dreamt of scoring,” Ruidíaz said. “Before every match I always think about scoring. ‘Raúl, you’re going to score.’ I have a conversation with myself about scoring. Before that match I had dreamt that I was going to score. Not the way it happened, but I had dreamt it.
“And when they tied, I thought: This is the moment. Let’s go. There’s going to be one [chance]. And in the moment I scored, I think all the euphoria, adrenaline and emotion shined through. And it was historic.”
Ruidíaz was called in for Peru at the FIFA World Cup after making 12 appearances and scoring once for La Blanquirroja during South American World Cup Qualifying, including the intercontinental playoff against New Zealand that booked Peru’s first trip to El Mundial in 36 years. He came off the bench in Peru’s opening group stage match against Denmark as well as against France on Matchday 2 to earn his 31st cap. He did not appear in Peru’s group-stage finale, a 2-0 win over Australia.
“Qualifying for the World Cup is the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” Ruidíaz said. “In my career and in life.”