Since Ruidiaz made his first start against the San Jose Earthquakes on July 29, the Sounders have won five straight, with the Peruvian bagging two goals and an assist over those five matches.
However, after Ruidiaz logged only 16 touches in Seattle’s 2-1 win over FC Dallas on August 12, Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer admitted he's still figuring out how to best integrate his new DP. Even with that number rising to 40 touches in Seattle’s 5-0 rout of the LA Galaxy last Saturday, getting Ruidiaz more involved has been a point of emphasis ahead of Seattle's massive Heineken Rivalry Week derby clash against the Portland Timbers at Providence Park on Sunday (9:30 pm ET | FS1 - full TV & streaming info).
“The 40 touches is a positive,” Schmetzer said. “We did work on that in training, specific patterns and trying to get him more involved, so we’ll continue to work on that. I threw [Will] Bruin on there in the second half again so we could see of how they look together. So, good for [Ruidiaz] for scoring. He probably could have had a couple more, but happy that he’s getting in the swing of things with this group of guys.”
It could be argued Ruidiaz's most important role so far has been occupying defenders and taking pressure off Sounders playmaker Nicolas Lodeiro, who has been thriving with the increased room to operate.
But Ruidiaz is a goalscorer first and foremost, as demonstrated by the gaudy numbers he put up in Liga MX the past two seasons before coming to Seattle. With increased comfort and chemistry with his fellow attackers, the Sounders expect him to start finding the net at an even greater clip than his current two goals in six games.
“I think in practice we’ve made a conscious effort in the last week or two, not just going on the outside, but how can we get the ball to him,” midfielder Harry Shipp said on Friday. “Obviously, you’re not going to force it in to him if it’s not on, but for us, I think if we’re aware of where he is and his movement then I think we have the freedom to play that pass or elect to do something else. But as long as we see it, I think we’ll be alright.”
The possibilities have surfaced in flashes. Ruidiaz smashed his first MLS finish on a pretty first-time volley – the type of dynamic play the Sounders sorely lacked during their slow start to the season. His second against the Galaxy came off a breakaway, but with a defender draped all over him and from a difficult angle.
For Seattle, the next step is putting him in those positions with greater regularity, whether Ruidiaz is the lone forward in the team’s customary 4-2-3-1 or playing alongside Bruin in a 4-4-2 Schmetzer has experimented with.
“I think we’re still establishing a connection with Raul in terms of when to [play him] in behind and when to play to his feet and run off of him,” Shipp said. “But I think over the next couple games you’re going to only see it getting better. Hopefully it leads to some more goals.”