On Friday, June 29, Seattle Sounders FC officially announced the signing of Peruvian striker Raúl Ruidíaz. A proven goalscorer in Liga MX, the expectation is that his knack for finding the back of the net will translate to MLS.
With that in mind, let’s examine Ruidíaz ’s style of play, and how it will figure into the different formations the Sounders have rolled out during the 2018 season.
Style of Play
Ruidíaz tends to come alive in the box. When he has the ball at his feet in the final third, the game seems to slow down around him, which is the mark of a truly special player.
While he may not possess the towering height of a traditional No. 9, Ruidíaz’s upper-body strength, low center of gravity and unimpeachable balance make him a very effective back-to-goal player, capable of sharply changing direction at a moment’s notice. The Peruvian’s blend of close control and explosive change of pace allows him to maneuver through compact defenses in the final third and create a bit of separation with his marker before rifling off a shot.
But what immediately catches the eye is Ruidíaz’s excellent ball-striking technique. Generating immense power from his hips with relatively little back-lift, he consistently hits thunderous shots on target that confound goalkeepers with their verve and unpredictable movement. If given even an inch of space in the final third, he’s lethal with both feet.
- FAST FACTS: Get to know Raúl Ruidíaz
And while he may have the aerial ability of a more brutish No. 9, he also possesses the soccer IQ and spatial awareness to make incisive, perfectly-timed runs. Ruidíaz might not have blistering pace, but he’s certainly fast and his first few steps are explosive, which will stretch opposing defenses and carve out more space for Seattle’s technical, creative midfielders to operate.
“He’s going to make people better because defenders have to watch out for him, which is going to leave space for [Clint] Dempsey, which is going to leave space for Víctor [Rodríguez], which is going to allow Nico [Lodeiro] to be able to pass the ball to the players ahead of him with the right pace, the right spots, the right movements,” said Sounders FC Head Coach Brian Schmetzer.
Although his primary attributes revolve around goal-scoring, he’s adept at combining with attacking midfielders and contributing to the build-up.
In the Sounders’ favored formation, Ruidíaz will likely operate as the lone-striker.
Seattle likes to methodically build attacks from the back, send the fullbacks forward to establish width, and unbalance opposing defenses with sustained, metronomic possession in the final third. Given Ruidíaz’s willingness to battle center backs, he’ll provide a focal point for the attack. When the team has sustained possession, his clever movement should allow him to spot and hit gaps as the opponent’s defense shifts, providing tight windows for a measured through-ball.
“We wanted somebody who is just technically a very good finisher, a good striker of the ball, always has things on target, that type of thing,” said Sounders FC General Manager and President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey. “I just thought he was really good – really good at using his body in spaces and the number of teams that have come to CenturyLink Field and parked the bus and played bunker and counter against us, even in the playoffs, became a pretty common tactic. I think a player like this is just what we need to break that tactic down and pull it apart.”
With his intelligent, precise movement, he’ll be a menace inside the box when Seattle’s fullbacks get forward to supply crosses and cut-backs. And since the Sounders favor inverted wingers, the Rave Green’s wide players will have an effective option with whom they can combine and destabilize an opponent’s defensive shape.
Ultimately, forwards rely on service, and the likes of Dempsey and Lodeiro will supply him with plenty of opportunities, both from sustained possession and in transition. Since coming to Seattle, both Magnus Wolff Eikrem and Rodríguez have demonstrated an affinity for supplying in-swinging crosses from deeper positions, which is the type of service the Peruvian thrived upon with Morelia.
Ruidíaz with Peru in a match against New Zealand | Reuters
No matter the variation, 4-4-2’s are all essentially predicated on partnerships across the pitch. So, Ruidíaz’s stamp on the system will be determined by his strike partner.
If it’s Will Bruin, then Seattle have two players who are dominant in the air, incentivizing crosses from the fullbacks. Although the diamond system thrives upon sustained, methodical possession through the four central midfielders, it’s made far more effective if the team employs diverse tactics, as it keeps opposing defenders honest. The Sounders like to dominate possession, but they’ll be able to do so more effectively if opponents drop off a bit, mindful that any point Bruin might flick-on a long ball, sending Ruidíaz off to the races.
If he’s partnered with Dempsey, he’ll function as a more traditional No. 9, while the Nacogdoches native will occupy more of an inside forward role, playing off Ruidíaz and operating as a hybrid goalscorer/chance creator. As demonstrated in his time playing alongside Obafemi Martins, Dempsey loves to have a forward partner with whom he can combine and unbalance packed defenses, which is Ruidíaz to a tee.
The mere presence of two forwards will restrict opposing center backs’ ability to step into midfield to win challenges, freeing up Seattle to create numerical advantages for its attacking midfielders.
Typically used on the road, Ruidíaz could be extremely effective in a counter-attacking 3-6-1. With the wingbacks pinned to the touchlines and the Peruvian stretching the field, Seattle’s midfielders will have more time and space on the ball once possession is recovered.
Given his pace and penchant for making intelligent runs, Ruidíaz could be lethal in transition. Since wingbacks have more license to get forward than traditional fullbacks, he’ll be supplied plenty of service from the flanks as well. The diminutive destroyer is a menace in the air, as he stations himself on the defender’s back side before making sharp, explosive runs to get in front and nod home crosses. Once he’s air born, he exhibits excellent technique on snap-headers.