Ruidiaz has been gone an international duty for the better part of six weeks with Peru at the 2019 Copa América, where he helped his country reach the final against host nation Brazil. On Sunday, in his first MLS start since June 1, he didn’t waste much time making his presence felt.
In the 58th minute, it was Ruidiaz who broke a scoreless deadlock with a highlight-reel sequence that started after he chested down a feed from Cristian Roldan, before setting himself up with a rainbow lob to himself over the head of Atlanta defender Miles Robinson. The Peruvian then lashed home a fierce finish past goalkeeper Brad Guzan, allowing a 71st-minute tally from teammate Harry Shipp to stand as the game-winner to offset an equalizer from Josef Martinez.
“It’s just desire,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said of Ruidiaz after the game. “He just wants to score goals, that’s who he is, that’s part of his DNA. He absolutely earned that goal. But then he had the technical ability, the awareness, the savvy for once he got around the final guy, to find the goal and the goalkeeper and put it in the back of the net. That’s not an easy goal, and he makes it look easy.”
The Peruvian has scored at a prolific rate since joining Seattle from Morelia of Liga MX halfway through last season. With Sunday’s goal, he’s now netted 17 times in 22 MLS starts, and added two more in last year’s MLS Cup Playoffs.
In 2019, he just hasn’t been on the field consistently. A heel injury cost him five games near the beginning of the season before Copa duty with Peru kept him out four more. All told, he’s started just eight of Seattle’s 20 games.
Now back from Peru and back to full health, the hope for the Sounders is that Sunday’s goal is a sign he’s set to truly be unleashed on the league for a sustained period for the first time.
“He’s an instinctive goalscorer,” said Shipp. “Having someone like that, when he’s got the ball at his feet in the box, you always think there’s a chance he’s going to score a goal. That’s a rare characteristic for guys any league in the world, so it’s nice to have him back.”
Ruidiaz isn’t the only returning Sounder Seattle are hoping will provide a boost.
Roldan and Jordan Morris also made their first starts back after joining the US men’s national team at the 2019 Gold Cup, while Nicolas Lodeiro picked up another assist in his second start since returning from Uruguay. With Gustav Svensson (Sweden), Roman Torres (Panama), Xavier Arreaga (Ecuador) and Jordy Delem (Martinique) all also back in the fold, the Sounders are as close to full strength as they’ve been since the start of the season.
“I think we have the confidence we can play with anyone,” Shipp said. “It is what it is in terms of what we’re at in the standings behind LAFC. But I think for us, we’ve got the confidence to play and once we get to the playoffs, we’ve got the confidence we can beat anyone, whether it’s here or on the road.”