Raúl Ruidíaz simply cannot stop scoring against Mexican opposition.
The Sounders forward scored the match-winner against Santos Laguna in the third minute of stoppage time on Tuesday night at Lumen Field to send Seattle to a 1-0 victory and to the Leagues Cup Final. The Peruvian, who came to the Sounders in 2018 as a two-time Liga MX goalscoring champion, recorded his second tally in as many matches against his former league and did so in devastating fashion.
“That’s what big-time players do,” midfielder Cristian Roldan said of Ruidíaz. “You can see him become different when it’s a playoff game, when it’s a big moment, when we’re playing a Mexican side when he has ties on the other team.
“You see it in moments like today,” Roldan continued. “He was dangerous all game, and it was unfortunate that he didn’t score another one. He’s a goalscorer and he’ll find his way to score a goal.”
While Ruidíaz provided the heroics, Tuesday night was yet another example of the depth of this team that continues to roll, no matter who Head Coach Brian Schmetzer employs in a given match. That has been the calling card all year and is a large part of their early-season success that saw them set an MLS record unbeaten run to start the campaign despite myriad absences to injury and international duty.
“It’s been a total team effort, and I think that’s the difference,” said Roldan. “In previous finals, we’ve used 14 guys, 15 guys. We’ve used our whole team this year. Our locker room this year is really close. That’s what makes it extra special, getting to a final. The camaraderie in the group, we’ve seen it come together. We’re on top of the Western Conference, and that’s something that we take pride in, as well as competing in a different tournament.”
Added Schmetzer: “I’m happy for the guys in that locker room…It was a great result against a very well-coached, well-organized team.”
The Sounders look to only be getting better as well. Stefan Frei is back and recorded his second consecutive clean sheet. Captain Nicolás Lodeiro and defender Nouhou are back too, despite being withheld against Santos as a precautionary measure. And now Seattle adds a different dimension to its attack with the addition of 21-year-old Brazilian Léo Chú, who made his club debut on Tuesday and slipped in Ruidíaz for his goal.
“I was very happy from the moment that I arrived, and one of the reasons that I came here was because this is a group of winners,” said Chú. “I came here to make history with this team, and I’m very happy about the result.”
Before the Sounders head to Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas for the Leagues Cup Final next Wednesday (7 p.m. PT; ESPN2) against either Léon or Pumas, they have a crucial road clash against Real Salt Lake on Saturday (6:30 p.m. PT; JOEtv, Prime Video, 950 KJR AM, El Rey 1360 AM) as they look to continue their fight for top seed in the Western Conference. It will also be the club’s first match against RSL for new assistant Freddy Juarez, who stepped down as Salt Lake’s manager to join Seattle’s coaching staff last month.
Schmetzer preached that his team would not look past RSL, but he is looking forward to enjoying and capitalizing on the opportunity when the Sounders take the field in Las Vegas next week.
“We’re caught up in the Seattle Sounders moment,” Schmetzer said. “I’m enjoying myself. The players are enjoying themselves.
“This isn’t Liga MX against MLS, you guys can write that story,” he continued. “What I’m writing is that we are in another final. This organization, this club is in another final.”