With Ruidiaz ready, Sounders ponder knotty formation, personnel decisions

Raul Ruidiaz - smiles in training - Seattle Sounders

TUKWILA, Wash. – The Seattle Sounders hope they’ve found their second-half savior in new striker Raul Ruidiaz, who is set to make his much-anticipated team debut in Seattle’s upcoming Cascadia Cup home clash against the Vancouver Whitecaps at CenturyLink Field on Saturday (4 pm ET | TSN – Full TV and streaming info).

Now Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer has some tough choices to make as to exactly how his new Designated Player will fit on the field.

Schmetzer has almost exclusively run a 4-2-3-1 formation with a lone forward up top since he took over midway through 2016. But if he chooses to keep that look with Ruidiaz in the fold, that would mean sitting his most productive attacker so far this season in Will Bruin, who has five goals and four assists in 1,266 minutes.

Speaking with reporters at Seattle’s training session at Starfire Sports Complex on Thursday, Schmetzer was tight-lipped on the specifics of how he’s approaching that issue, saying only that he believes it qualifies as a good problem to have.

“I’m extremely pleased, the coaching staff is pleased to have more options,” Schmetzer said. “It’s good to have. You see the training rhythm is a little bit sharper, a little bit crisper because Raul’s here and everybody wants to play.”

Come Saturday, however, something will have to give.

One look that would get Ruidiaz and Bruin on the field at the same time would be a switch from the 4-2-3-1 to a 4-4-2. It’s a formation the Sounders employed during some of their most successful years in MLS, when Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins ran wild in the two-striker system and became one of the most productive duos in league history from 2013-15.

For his part, Bruin said he has experience playing off another forward during his days with the Houston Dynamo and that he believes both he and Ruidiaz would be able to thrive in such a set-up.

“I think that’s when I excelled the most because now defenders have to worry about two people instead of just me occupying space in between two center backs,” Bruin said. “So I think when the center backs have to worry about two bodies out there, that creates more space for everybody else, it creates more space in behind and I think it’s going to create more opportunities for us, more goals.

“I envision it elevating both our games because I can be a target guy and take some of the beating and give him more space in behind or underneath.”

It’s not the only personnel question Schmetzer has on his hands regarding what his first-choice XI will look like going forward. Center back Roman Torres is back with the team and close to fully recovered from an ankle injury he suffered playing with Panama in the 2018 World Cup. Normally the unquestioned starter beside Chad Marshall, Torres is now in a battle for minutes with Kim Kee-Hee, who has deputized admirably in his absence.

Swedish midfielder Gustav Svensson is also back from World Cup duty and, based on his form, seems hard to bench as well despite the presence of stalwarts Ozzie Alonso and Cristian Roldan at his position. And that’s not even taking into account the issue of how all of this impacts Dempsey, who would find himself in a super-sub role should Ruidiaz and Bruin end up as the first-choice strikers.

“It’s competition,” Schmetzer said. “Guys that are performing well in training and games will get the starts. Obviously we have three games in one week, so there will be opportunities that present themselves to players and they have to take hold of those opportunities. Competition is healthy, competition is good. It drives the group.”