Sounders FC

Raul Ruidiaz wants Sounders to play TFC with same ‘rebellious attitude’ that beat LAFC


That’s how Cristian Roldan describes the approach of his Seattle Sounders FC teammate Raul Ruidiaz.

“He’s so complex, as a player, as an individual,” Roldan said in a Thursday afternoon press conference in Seattle, as the Sounders continue to prepare for Sunday’s MLS Cup at CenturyLink Field.

Roldan continued to explain the intricacies of Ruidiaz’s stellar play up front — how well he performs with the ball at his feet and how his movements away from the ball are just as calculated.

“He’s really relentless in the way he plays off the ball,” Roldan said. “It’s really a joy to watch, and that’s why he’s been really successful here, I think.”

Last week, when the Sounders upset a seemingly unbeatable LAFC squad in the Western Conference final, all of what has made Ruidiaz so valuable to Seattle during these past two seasons was on display.

He put on a clinic, scoring two goals in the 3-1 win that lifted the Sounders to their third championship appearance in four seasons. The first blast came in the 22nd minute off a pass from Nico Lodeiro and erased an early 1-0 deficit. The second, in the 64th minute, was a back-breaker, giving Seattle a third, conclusive goal.

“Watching his ability finishing inside the box is some of the best I’ve ever seen,” Seattle midfielder Jordan Morris said. “He’s just so clinical when he gets his chances, and you saw that with his two goals (against LAFC). Not easy finishes, and he just makes them look easy. … Watching him is a great example.”

And how Ruidiaz played between the two strikes further solidified what the Sounders have known since they signed him midway through the 2018 season — he’s one of the top forwards in the league.

He doesn’t get the attention of a Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Josef Martinez or Carlos Vela, Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey said, but his name belongs in the same conversation.

The 29-year-old from Peru has led Seattle in goals the past two seasons — he had a team-high 11 in the regular season this year and has added three more and two assists in three postseason games — and has a trusty foot.

“He’s one of the elite forwards in the league, there’s no question about it,” Lagerwey said. “Certainly if I need a guy to finish one shot from anywhere on the field, he’s my guy. I’m going to take him. He just gets it done, and he gets it done in big games.

“We’ve had some guys in the past here who have been really high profile guys that have not been able to score at the same rate Raul has scored in some of these major games, so it’s a credit to him.”

Lagerwey said the Sounders need their key players to show up in big games and want big moments, and Ruidiaz does.

He spoke through an interpreter Thursday afternoon about the “rebellious attitude” the Sounders played with in the win over LAFC, and he wants to bring that same fire to his first MLS Cup appearance Sunday against Toronto FC.

“I’m very excited to be able to play this final (in front of) nearly 70,000 people,” Ruidiaz said. “I will prepare the same way as I have prepared so far. My winning and positive mentality will be the same.”

Though Ruidiaz just hit his one-year anniversary of joining the Sounders in June, his teammates and coaches say it hasn’t taken long for him to find his rhythm with the squad.

“It’s a very friendly locker room we have here,” Sounders midfielder Gustav Svensson said. “It was the same when I came. Everyone is very friendly. We like each other in there, and it’s easy to come as an outsider.

“It’s easy to come as another player just fitting in the group. … We’re all one, which helps a lot. I think that helped him.”

Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer noted that while Ruidiaz — like Roldan, Morris, Roman Torres and others, he said — is intense on the field, he’s a “nice guy” off of it, just like his teammates.

“He fits in right,” Schmetzer said. “He’s a nice man. He’s a family man. He’s done everything we’ve asked of him. We’re extremely ecstatic to have him.”

Lauren Smith covers the Seattle Mariners for The News Tribune. She previously covered high school sports at TNT and The Olympian, beginning in 2015. She is a graduate of the University of Washington and Emerald Ridge High School.