#1 Raúl Ruidíaz
Realio’s rating: 7.250 in 16 appearances
Community rating: 7.32
Rankinator ranking: #4
MOTM = 6 High = 8 Low = 6
Like both Nicolás Lodeiro and Víctor Rodríguez before him, Raúl Ruidíaz came in midseason and didn’t have a below-average outing for the rest of the year. Even with incredibly high expectations upon his arrival, Ruidíaz not only met those expectations, he exceeded them. Only playing in half the number of matches as his teammates, he nonetheless ended up with the third-most shots on the team and led Seattle with 10 regular season goals. In the playoffs he stepped it up even more, averaging 8.5 and scoring three goals for Seattle on the way to earning MOTM in both legs of Seattle’s playoff series. After Nouhou, Raúl had the biggest improvement from regular season to postseason. He had the team’s highest regular season average to begin with (7.071) but was even more dominant in the postseason. Every time you thought Seattle might be fading, Ruidíaz popped up out of nowhere to bang in another huge goal, showing he is already one of the best goal scorers in MLS. It should also be noted that the community ratings had Raúl as the consensus number one overall after averaging his ratings for the season.
What I liked: It was worth the wait for Ruidíaz to arrive midseason. He came into Seattle and combined nearly seamlessly. He fit the culture, the team make-up, and seemed to know exactly what it took to not just dress like a Sounder, but perform like one. Immediately effective, he made Seattle a much more goal-dangerous team. His first appearance kicked off a league record nine game winning streak and propelled the team toward the playoffs. He did it efficiently, with movement and anticipation combined with deadly accurate finishing to score huge goals for Seattle nearly every game. A great example was in the final match of the regular season: Raúl turned 21 total touches into two shots, and most importantly, two goals. His quickness in the box led to opportunities before the defense could react, and his lethal shot combined well with a rapid trigger to consistently score. When everyone else was ball watching, Raúl was scoring an absolutely huge extra time goal by being the fastest player in the box.
Ruidíaz carried this momentum into the playoffs, grabbing both MOTM awards, scoring three goals, and putting together a massive, 10-worthy effort in the final match of the year versus Portland at home: “You can’t ask any more of a player. Ruidíaz was phenomenal. You might look at his 40 touches (just two more than Frei) or his 80 percent completion rate and wonder why the high rating, but this guy did everything. Five shots, a key pass, three goals (with his converted PK in the shootout), won four aerials (!!?!?), had stellar holdup and linking play to support his defense and nearly carried Seattle into the Western Conference finals on will alone.” This was the kind of masterful performance he put on in the biggest game of his Sounders career. Ruidíaz showed up when the pressure was on, performing magically when Seattle needed it most. What’s even more exciting is that Seattle will likely put out a stronger lineup next season, which should only increase the number of chances that Raúl gets every match.
What I didn’t like: Ruidíaz didn’t have any bad matches, but late in the year away against LAG with a sprained ankle, he struggled a bit. I don’t know why he was asked to play in this match, having been forced out three days prior mid-game. He still played a full 90 minutes, led the team with six shots and did his best to combine with Bruin up top, which meant a lot of running and playing holdup. Although Raúl was as good as could be expected with minimal service, he did tend to disappear from games at times when the team couldn’t get him the ball. He worked well to drop in and get more touches, but he shouldn’t be required to get too far away from the point of attack, where he is lethal. His size is more conducive to diagonal runs than bodying up center backs, and while he has good speed, he relies more on explosive quickness than straight line pace to get in behind. Ruidíaz combined well with teammates, but it was clear that he was just getting used to the habits of the players around him. He should be even more effective as they all work and train together in preparation for 2019.
Moving forward: Ruidíaz is now a proven goal scorer and has the potential to be as good a finisher as anyone in MLS. His goal rate was equal to the best in the league. Seattle has players that complement his playing style and we should expect Raúl to be a league leader in goals as long as he gets at least as much service as he did in 2018. Ruidíaz works well with Nico Lodeiro, but is particularly effective when supplemented with wide attacks, so finding accurate service from the outside will be huge for Raúl next season. There is plenty of reason to think he’ll be in the golden boot conversation.
Thanks to you all for reading this series throughout the year. If you have any questions or suggestions feel free to message me. I will likely do a recap of the entire season at some point. Also, on a personal note RIP coach. You were one of the kindest people I have ever met through soccer and our community is less today with your departure.