During the media frenzy in the buildup to MLS Cup, Seattle Sounders forward Raúl Ruidíaz was asked about his decision to join the Sounders. A proven goal scorer in Chile, Mexico and his home country, the Peruvian could have signed with any number of powerhouse clubs in the Americas.
His answer was simple, demonstrating the commitment and mentality he’s brought since day one with the Sounders.
“Frankly, I did come to a big club, which is the Seattle Sounders,” said Ruidíaz. “And I am very happy here.”
Ruidíaz, 28 years old at the time, was coming off consecutive 20-goal seasons for Morelia in Liga MX when he signed with the Rave Green. Despite joining Seattle midway through the 2018 MLS regular season, he finished the campaign as the team’s top scorer with 10 goals from 14 appearances. Signed in part because of his pedigree in big-time matches, Ruidíaz added a bit of flourish to his debut MLS season with three goals in two Audi MLS Cup Playoffs matches.
“If I need a guy to finish one shot from anywhere on the field, he’s my guy,” Sounders FC General Manager Garth Lagerwey said ahead of MLS Cup. “I’m going to take him, because he just gets it done, and he gets it done in big games.”
Despite injuries and international call-ups, Ruidíaz once again demonstrated his ruthless efficiency in 2019, posting 11 goals and three assists in just shy of 1,800 minutes during the regular season. En route the MLS Cup Final, he notched three goals and three assists in postseason wins against FC Dallas, Real Salt Lake and LAFC.
With Toronto dictating possession in the first half of MLS Cup on Sunday, the best chance of the opening stanza fell to Ruidíaz. In the 45th minute, Nicolás Lodeiro drove an early cross into the space between TFC’s back four and their goalkeeper. Ruidíaz read the play brilliantly as he beat Omar Gonzalez to the ball and burst into the box. TFC ‘keeper Quentin Westberg pushed away the Peruvian’s clever shot with a kick save, keeping the match scoreless at the break.
“We had a huge opportunity right before the half [but] their ‘keeper makes a great save,” Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei said after the match. “When we did get our chances [in the second half] we were ruthless, we were good. Guys were hungry to make a difference up top. I appreciate that. It’s the reason we’re hoisting a trophy today.”
Most players would shy away from big occasions after being unable to convert the chance that Ruidíaz had on the brink of halftime. But as he’s done since he came to the Sounders, Ruidíaz picked his game up a notch. It was his composure in tight spaces and perfectly flighted ball to Kelvin Leerdam that set up the opening goal. That opened the floodgates as the Sounders dictated play for the final thirty minutes.
Víctor Rodríguez added a second in the 76th minute, which forced Toronto to throw numbers forward as they looked for a way back into the game. With the clock running down in stoppage time, Ruidíaz provided a moment of magic, latching onto a long ball from Gustav Svensson and calmly dinking his shot over Westberg to seal MLS Cup on home soil.
“I said at halftime, ‘Raúl, you’re going to get another look, don’t worry about it,’” added Frei. “Lo and behold, we got a handful of chances and end up with three goals.”
Ruidíaz came to the Sounders back in 2018 because he wanted to play for a big club that competes for trophies. In the 17 months since he arrived in the Emerald City, he’s won two Cascadia Cups, a Western Conference Championship and the 2019 MLS Cup.
Ruidíaz lives for the big moments.