The Seattle Sounders introduced record signing Raúl Ruidíaz at CenturyLink Field on June 30, 2018. Less than a year and a half later, the Peruvian Designated Player has them on the brink of lifting their first MLS Cup at home and second overall in four years when the Sounders host Toronto FC on Sunday (12 p.m. PT; ABC, Univision, 950 KJR AM, El Rey 1350 AM).
Ruidíaz, 29, joined the Sounders from Mexico’s Morelia, where he was a two-time Liga MX goalscoring king. The expectations were high coming in, but his production – highlighted by a brace in a 3-1 Western Conference Championship win over LAFC – has been nothing short of tremendous.
“[He is] worth every cent we paid for him,” Sounders Head Coach Brian Schmetzer quipped after the LAFC match.
Ruidíaz has 27 goals and seven assists in 41 MLS regular season and postseason matches since arriving. He finished with 11 goals in 22 matches this season, and his Goals/90 ratio of 0.55 was ninth in MLS among players who scored at least 10 times.
ESPN broadcaster Taylor Twellman called him a “stone-cold killer.” Toronto FC Head Coach Greg Vanney called him “an assassin.” Whatever your adjective for him, he’s undeniably ruthless and one of the most lethal No. 9s in this league.
“He reminds me a bit of [Atlanta United forward] Josef Martínez,” Vanney said of Ruidíaz earlier this week. “He’s a striker’s striker. He is playing for his moments, and he’s very clever about manufacturing those moments. When he gets them, he’s very efficient.”
Ruidíaz is a crucial wrinkle to this Sounders squad that TFC did not have to deal with when the two clubs met in consecutive MLS Cups in 2016 and ’17. He’s a player who thrives in the limelight, as showcased by his six goals and three assists in five career MLS postseason matches.
“His finishing inside the box is some of the best I’ve ever seen,” said Sounders forward Jordan Morris, whose newfound success on the wing has opened up more space and opportunities for both Ruidíaz and himself. “They’re not easy finishes and he makes them look easy. Watching him is a great example.”
What has impressed the Seattle coaching staff and his teammates almost as much as his goalscoring ability is Ruidíaz’s movement off the ball that creates those looks at goal. Defenders think they have him covered, and the next thing they know he’s slipped in behind them and they’re picking the ball out of their net.
“[Ruidíaz is] so complex as a player and as an individual,” said Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan. “He does a lot of the movements that you don’t really see on TV or on the field until he scores a goal. Then you say, ‘Wow, what great movement.’ But he’s been doing that the whole game. He’s really relentless in the way he plays off the ball, and it’s a joy to watch.”
The Sounders are going to need another massive performance from Ruidíaz on Sunday if they’re going to win MLS Cup. He doesn’t necessarily need to get on the scoresheet to impact the match – his defensive work rate and the way he drags center backs out of position are just as vital – but if he gets his chance, expect him to come through.
“If I need one guy to finish a shot from anywhere on the field, [Ruidíaz is] my guy,” said Sounders General Manager & President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey. “He just gets it done.”