"Reins are off" for Seattle Sounders' Ruidiaz, Lodeiro heading into CCL semis

For Seattle Sounders FC, Saturday night may have produced their most promising league result of the season yet.

Seattle not only played arguably their best match – and particularly their best first half – of the 2022 MLS campaign in a 2-1 away win over Minnesota United FC.

They also saw two of their most influential attackers, midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro and striker Raul Ruidiaz, play their first 45 minutes each since February, just in time for Wednesday’s opening leg of their Concacaf Champions League semifinal series against New York City FC (10 pm ET | FS2, TUDN).

“The reins are off,” manager Brian Schmetzer said of the South American duo after Week 5's result. “Our sports science guys do a good job of managing the players, the athletes. But, you know, they’re full in, ready to go.”

After working back from an adductor strain sustained in the MLS opener against Nashville SC on Feb. 27, Lodeiro re-assumed his role of talisman in the opening 45 minutes.

The 2016 MLS Newcomer of the Year completed nearly 90% of his passes in that opening 45 minutes. Lodeiro also provided the feed for Joao Paulo’s audacious opener, struck first time on the run from beyond the penalty area into the top right corner.

Ruidiaz’s impact after the break – in his first action since straining a hamstring in the CCL Round of 16 prior to the Sounders’ MLS opener – wasn’t as statistically obvious as Lodeiro’s assist. But the Sounders' leading goal scorer from 2021 was the man waiting on the back post for the cross Jordan Morris delivered, one that redirected off Minnesota defender Brent Kallman and past goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair to double Seattle’s lead four minutes into the second half.

That each Designated Player contributed to the Sounders’ first three points on the road was maybe more important to Schmetzer than them returning in time for Wednesday.

“We’ve certainly focused on trying to come here to Minnesota not just to, you know, play the game and wait for Wednesday,” Schmetzer said. “We came here to Minnesota to win. Nico was a very, very big part of the reason why we won in the first half. And Raul was a very, very big reason why we won the game in the second half.”

With two wins and a draw in their last three contests in league play, the Sounders' manager also believes his team can host NYCFC with the satisfaction of maybe quieting some early doubters that Seattle could excel in both competitions.

“The team is finding a little bit of momentum," Schmetzer said. "I think the narrative was out there, the negative narrative was the league play wasn’t great, and we weren’t playing as well as we were in Champions League games. But I think we can probably erase that narrative.”