Raul Ruidiaz - Cristian Roldan - Celebrating
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Three takeaways as Seattle Sounders clinch playoff berth with win over Vancouver Whitecaps

The Seattle Sounders' 2-0 victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps at Providence Park on Tuesday was a slog, until it wasn't.

A listless first half turned into a comfortable victory for the Sounders in the second, as Raul Ruidiaz made his return to the lineup in grand fashion, factoring into both goals in a six-minute span that allowed Seattle to take all three points. The Sounders are now in the playoffs for a 12th straight year, while the Whitecaps will need to pick up the pieces and look forward as they battle for one of the West's final postseason spots.

Here are three observations coming off Tuesday's match.

A streak that shouldn't be taken for granted

The Sounders joined MLS in 2009, and with Tuesday's victory, they ensured that their streak of qualifying for the playoffs every year since that expansion season remains intact. It's no small feat. In a league filled with parity that has seen even its most distinguished of dynasties fall into rough patches, Seattle have managed to be a pillar of consistency. 

Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer has been with the club through it all, dating back to his days as a player for the NASL iteration of the Sounders, to coaching the USL outfit before the jump to MLS and acting as an assistant under the late Sigi Schmid for seven seasons before assuming the first-team head coach role. Asked about what the milestone means to him after Tuesday's match, Schmetzer said it's attributable to a culture that has been ingrained within the club since its beginning.

Highlights: Seattle Sounders 2, Vancouver Whitecaps 0

"It's obviously a big moment for the club," Schmetzer said. "I'd like to push that back, even in the USL days and NASL days, this club's always been a winning club. It's something that is within the DNA, the culture of our club. I reminded the players before the game about the great players we've had at this club, and what does it take to make it to the playoffs, and other sports franchises and how, and asking them questions so that they can reflect on the job that they do.

"What I would come back with is the reason why we've been in the playoffs for 12 straight years — obviously Sigi laid a great foundation, very grateful for that — but the reason why the club has made it 12 years in a row is that the players always are committed to themselves, they're committed to their teammates, they're committed to the fans. And it's that type of culture that can drive, that can be successful, that can win championships. That's what we have with the Sounders, that's what what we have with this particular group."

As they look ahead to this year's playoffs, the Sounders are no doubt thinking about a chase for even more history. They've been to three out of the last four MLS Cup finals, and won two of them, meaning that one more would unquestionably place them in the conversation as the dynasty of this era of the league.

Ruidiaz returns with a bang

It's been a long road back for Raul Ruidiaz, who had missed Seattle's last stretch of games ahead of this one while on international duty with Peru, where he also endured a positive COVID-19 diagnosis.

The striker was reportedly asymptomatic, but was held out of Peru's remaining fixtures in Conmebol World Cup qualifying and was forced to quarantine in a Peru hotel room for days before gaining clearance to travel back to Seattle. Once he tested negative and cleared his evaluations with Seattle's medical staff, Ruidiaz was good to play, but it would have been understandable if it had taken him a game or two to get back into the swing of things.

That makes his performance on Tuesday all the more impressive. His 54th-minute opener was a lethal strike — the type that Seattle fans have grown accustomed to since his arrival in 2018 from Liga MX — and his combination play with Nicolas Lodeiro looked smooth as ever on Ruidiaz's assist to the Uruguayan on Seattle's second goal just six minutes later. There's no doubt that Ruidiaz's presence elevates this team greatly, and having him in top form ahead of the playoffs is crucial for their prospects of a repeat title.

"He's happy to be back," Schmetzer said. "Sometimes when you have some adversity in your life, soccer is a good outlet. Soccer is something they love to do. All the players love to play. So for Raul, maybe he sets aside some of those days sitting in his hotel room, thinking about, 'What's happening to me, how are my kids, what am I doing, I'd rather be back in Seattle'. You guys all saw his social media posts about how happy he was when he was back in Seattle. I think he was just so thrilled to be back on the field with his teammates, and that was evident in his performance. I thought Nico and him didn't lose a beat."

Down but not out

Fielding a heavily rotated lineup, Vancouver actually managed to keep Seattle's attack at bay in the first half to put themselves in position to claw a point out of this one. They just couldn't make it to the finish line, as Ruidiaz conjured up the first goal to force the game open.

The heavy squad rotation wasn't what head coach Marc Dos Santos wanted to do, he said at his postgame press conference, but rather he felt his hand was forced due to fixture congestion and the desire to have his key players fully fit for their final two games of the season.

"It's not what I wanted. It's what I had to do," Dos Santos explained. "Some of the guys were very tight in their muscles, some were risking injury, some of them were not able to recover on time to play this game.

"We knew when we saw Seattle coming with their best 11 and all their players, it would have been a very tough night for us. Because against Seattle, if you want to beat Seattle, you have to play against them with your best players and with the same amount of recovery. Today it wasn't the case so I take a lot of the positives, the mentality of our guys, the way they fought to give their best to get something from the game."

It's a bump in the road in Vancouver's quest for a postseason bid, but the Whitecaps aren't out of it. Dos Santos said it's now about throwing everything they have at their Sunday matchup with the Portland Timbers in order to keep pace. Vancouver are currently tied on 24 points with the San Jose Earthquakes for the No. 7 spot in the West, although the Quakes have a game in hand.

"We have to move on, we'll look at some things of this game but right now our ambition our work, what we want to put in effort, recovery, everything is for the Portland game," Dos Santos said. "That is a crucial game for us as a club."