SEATTLE — The Seattle Sounders cruised to a 6-2 victory over Sacramento Republic FC in their latest preseason fixture, a 120-minute, closed-door scrimmage against the USL Championship side at CenturyLink Field on Wednesday.
After an afternoon that included a gorgeous curling golazo from Raul Ruidiaz and a brace from Justin Dhillon, here's the most important information we learned as the Sounders eye a Concacaf Champions League campaign that begins in two weeks' time.
The real deal in midfield
Joao Paulo, the Sounders’ new midfielder, played his first match with his new team and his skillset was as advertised.
The Brazilian is a gifted passer, and showcased his full arsenal throughout the first half, with his long balls standing out as particularly impressive. Among them was his feed on Seattle’s third goal — a pinpoint 20-yard dime to Kelvin Leerdam that left the Dutchman with acres of space to make his cross to a charging Jordan Morris.
It was the type of pass that teammate Cristian Roldan pointed to earlier this week when he was asked about his initial impressions from training with Joao Paulo.
“I’m looking forward for a lot of guys like Nico [Lodeiro] and Raul [Ruidiaz] to connect with this guy because he’ll find you from a lot deeper positions, something we may not have had the last couple years,” Roldan said. “It’s certainly something to take advantage of, having longer-range passing, having Gustav [Svensson] and himself being able to do so.”
With Lodeiro in Uruguay receiving tendinitis treatment, Joao Paulo also had set-piece duties all to himself and showed his prowess on dead balls lacing in a few dangerous corner kicks.
Ruidiaz remains a force
It’s too bad there was no stream of Wednesday’s scrimmage because Ruidiaz’s opener was truly a sight to behold.
The Peruvian showed exactly why he’s one of the league’s most dangerous strikers just two minutes after kickoff with his highlight-reel tally that came from well outside the penalty box giving the Sacramento keeper no chance. Ruidiaz had 11 regular-season goals last year, a relatively modest total, but he was limited to just 20 starts due to a heel injury and hefty international duty with Peru. If the Sounders can get that number of starts up towards 30 this year, there’s little reason to think Ruidiaz won’t be putting up some huge numbers.
This team can make a deep CCL run
Look, we all know how difficult Concacaf Champions League is for MLS teams. No franchise from the league has ever won it, after all.
But if there’s any MLS squad that should be going into this year’s CCL slate with some high expectations, it should be Seattle. They’re feeling good already coming off their second MLS Cup title in four years, and the addition of Joao Paulo is just one signing that addresses the holes that were there on the roster.
Colombian center back Yeimar Gomez Andrade is inbound in a deal made official Wednesday, and when he slides in, the talent level in Seattle’s first-choice starting XI should be able to stack up with just about anybody in Concacaf. Throw in the fact that the way the bracket is set up Seattle won’t have to play a Liga MX side until the semifinals at the earliest, and this is very much lining up to be the year Brian Schmetzer and Co. go for broke in this tournament.