Never before have the Seattle Sounders signed a player quite like Raúl Ruidíaz, which they will make official today. Still about a month shy of his 28th birthday, Ruidíaz brings an impeccable resume that should help explain why the Sounders paid more than $7 million for his transfer and have committed about $14 million to him over the life of his 3.5-year contract. Only Clint Dempsey demanded a bigger transfer fee in Sounders history — and that was at least partially paid by the league; he’s the sixth-most expensive incoming transfer in MLS history; and the second-most expensive player to be signed into the league this year.
“I hope it’s a statement of purpose, that we can compete with anybody,” Sounders GM and President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey told Sounder at Heart, noting that this was the earliest they could have feasibly signed Ruidíaz. “We’re doing that and we’ve done it two out of three summers. I don’t know that we’ll do it every summer, but certainly these are the windows where we feel these types of players are available.
“Hopefully he’s a good enough player that he proves to be the right longterm decision. We think we can make the playoffs this year, we think we have a championship caliber roster and now it’s up to us to prove that.”
Ruidíaz comes to the Sounders fresh off a pair of 20-goal years with Monarcas Morelia of Liga MX. During his first half-season in Mexico, Ruidíaz won the Apertura’s golden boot with 11 goals. The following season, his 91st minute goal in the season finale not only put Morelia into the playoffs but also saved them from relegation and again won him the Clausura golden boot. Morelia would go on to qualify for the playoffs in each of the next two half-seasons.
This was hardly some sort of two-year run of form, either. Over the past six calendar years, Ruidíaz has topped 20 goals four times. Dating back to his first professional season in 2009, Ruidíaz is averaging about .56 goals per 90 minutes at the club level. He’s also averaging .34 goals per 90 with Peru, though mostly as a sub.
For all their obvious skill and accomplishment, neither Dempsey nor Obafemi Martins have ever topped 20 goals in any league season. Dempsey has only once bettered Ruidíaz’s career goals per 90 mark over a full season (2014, when he averaged .63) and Martins has only done it twice (.59 and .75 during his last two seasons with the Sounders). Dempsey and Martins also were older than Ruidíaz when they joined the Sounders.
“He’s going to score goals, at least that’s what he’s done everywhere he’s been,” Lagerwey said. “You don’t grow goal-scorers on trees, and this is about as good as it gets from a production standpoint. We’re really excited to have him.
“If you look at our foundation now — an elite playmaker in Nico Lodeiro and an elite goal scorer in Raul Ruidiaz — that’s who we’re going to build our club around now.”
Martins provides a decent analogue for Ruidíaz in terms of playing style. Like Martins, Ruidíaz is not very tall but plays much bigger. His highlight reels are full of header goals, and he appears to make the most of his slight frame when fighting for position.
The other benefit to signing a player like Ruidíaz is his versatility. Although he’s been deployed almost exclusively as a lone forward in a 4-2-3-1 at Morelia — a similar role to what he will likely play here — he does have experience on the wing.
“One of the considerations was someone who could help us make the playoffs and someone who could play with Jordan Morris, Will Bruin and Clint Dempsey or some pairing or combination of those guys,” Lagerwey said. “I think he can do both.”
The trick now for the Sounders will be making sure they are still within realistic distance of making the playoffs when Ruidíaz is eligible to start playing. They’re also planning to have a TAM player signed, at least before the close of the transfer window if not sooner.
Neither player would be eligible to play until after July 10 when the summer transfer window opens, which means the Sounders must play three more games. The good news is Ruidíaz will likely ready to go almost immediately as he’s only played sparingly for Peru since his club season ended in early May. Lagerwey said they are “cautiously optimistic” about having his visa and international transfer certificate finalized in time for him to at least appear in the July 15 match, and he could feasibly make his starting debut the following home game against the Vancouver Whitecaps.
“We know we’re capable of playing at that level for long periods and that’s what we have to get back to,” Lagerwey said. “It’s not going to happen overnight, but it has to start on Saturday by beating Portland.”