TUKWILA, Wash. – If you watched Raul Ruidiaz’sInstagram stories without knowing anything else about him, you’d probably never guess that he’s one of the most cold-blooded, ruthless goalscorers in all of MLS.
The Seattle Sounders’ forward’s social media presence is often less about soccer, and more about his interests outside the game: Fancy cars, jewelry, clothes and the loud music he’s known to blast while dancing around his house. There’s also a lot of family content, documenting his time with his kids, taking them to the park and being a normal parent.
Along with scoring a bunch of goals, that boisterous Instagram presence helped make the Peruvian a fan-favorite almost immediately following his arrival to Seattle last season, in part because of how starkly it contrasts with his persona on the field: Between the lines, Ruidiaz rips hearts out, needing just a small sliver of space anywhere near the goal to finish with lethal precision – often in huge spots in the game.
Ruidiaz doesn’t do a lot of interviews (something that’s added to his mystique), but asked on Wednesday, midfielder Gustav Svensson noted how quickly the star striker managed to assimilate to the Sounders’ locker room despite joining the club midseason in 2018.
“I have to give credit to the locker room that we have here,” Svensson said. “It’s a very friendly locker room. It was the same when I came, everyone is very friendly, we like each other in there. It’s easy to come as an outsider, it’s easy to come in as another player fitting in with the group. There’s not many [cliques] in the locker room, we’re all one, which helps a lot.
“I think that helped him and he’s been great from the start.”
Nowhere was that comfort level more evident than in Seattle’s massive Western Conference Final upset of LAFC, which saw Ruidiaz bag two clinical finishes in a shocking 3-1 victory that now leaves them one game from immortality, with the Sounders taking on Toronto FC in the MLS Cup Final at CenturyLink Field on Sunday (3 pm ET | ABC, Univision, TUDN, TVAS, TSN).
The LAFC match was Ruidiaz at his finest, with his first goal a timely equalizer just minutes after a free kick goal from LAFC’s Eduard Atuesta put the Sounders’ backs against the wall. He then put the game on ice with an equally sublime finish in the second half to put Seattle up 3-1 and punch their ticket to the final.
“I think that was his best game ever,” Svensson said.
Like Sounders star midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro, though, it’s his all-around game that has also endeared Ruidiaz to his teammates. He lays it on the line on defense and, while he’s known mostly for his finishing prowess, has shown an aptitude for setting up teammates.
“I think the LA game was a prime example of that,” said Sounders defender Brad Smith. “Not only do [Ruidiaz and Lodeiro] score the goals, but the work rate they put in – that was the first really quality defensive performance we put in this season. We’ve struggled with conceding goals and to keep such a great team to only scoring a free kick was massive for us. And it starts from the front.”
Ruidiaz’s assimilation to the team, and Svensson’s point about the Seattle locker room, speak to a larger emphasis the Sounders say they put on culture, and scouting for personality in addition to talent. When he first signed, both Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey and sporting director Chris Henderson made a point of noting that Ruidiaz fit their profile of a player who wasn’t just talented on the field, but had the personal make-up of someone who would thrive in the league and the city.
So far, it’s paying off, both for Seattle on the field and for the fans, in Seattle and on Instagram.
“He fits in great,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said on Wednesday. “He’s a nice man, a family man. He’s done everything we have asked of him. We’re extremely ecstatic to have him and have him in a good run of form.”