Raúl Ruidíaz is just a few practices into his Seattle Sounders career. A few things stick out immediately when you are able to watch a couple of them.
The first thing you notice about Raul Ruidiaz is that he’s faster than everyone on the field when he wants to be. His first step and acceleration are really special. His directional change of pace is also elite, creating separation from defenders within two steps, showing fantastic agility. His “pass and move” is impressive, and as soon as the ball leaves his foot he is three steps toward where he wants to be. This puts pressure on anyone trying to defend him and should pair well with smart passers like Nico Lodeiro, V-Rod, Harry Shipp, and Clint Dempsey.
Instead of coming back to get touches, Ruidiaz is always looking to get into space. His runs and timing against centerbacks are perfect, staying onside before busting into the clear. Even in small-sided drills he was able to get past his man by running parallel to an offside position and then bursting in behind, which stretches the field and creates midfield space. He makes definitive near-post runs and doesn’t fade to the back post, which makes sense, as he’s not winning headers over most center defenders.
He is absolutely tenacious around the goal, quick to react and get to loose balls.
1-v-1 he isn’t a fancy dribbler, instead working stop-and-go moves to get past the defender and then get his body in between the ball and opponent within three steps by utilizing his speed and balance, which should lead to plenty of PK shouts as he is bowled over from behind.
Ruidiaz’s best attribute is his shot. He has an absolute cannon when striking. He hits the ball harder than any other Sounder I’ve seen. Adept with both feet, he is looking to kick the ball 30 yards past the back of the net. There is no range, he will strike from outside the 18 with impunity, and the ball bursts off his foot. He is a pure, clinical finisher, able to score any time he has the ball and any service up to about seven feet high goes in the net, via either foot, chest, head, etc. As soon as he gets the ball in space he is directly goal dangerous.
Physically, Ruidiaz is a very solidly built player, with a great body type for MLS. His upper body is a rock and he looks very muscular in a small package. (Think Nico, not V-Rod). He doesn’t have huge legs but gets tremendous power on his shots and tackles hard. On one occasion he casually block tackled Neagle in a drill and won the 50/50 so strongly Lamar fell down. Raul shrugged and played on. Ruidiaz doesn’t have an obvious dominant foot and seems comfortable going each direction.
To be determined:
Raul is not a possession guy, and while he can adequately do some holdup stuff, he doesn’t actively search for the ball with his back to the goal. It remains to be seen how he fits into the less direct style Seattle plays, but his movement off the ball is realized in short bursts from central areas. When he gets the ball Ruidiaz isn’t afraid to look for the difficult pass, and he sees the field and moving teammates well, but he wants the ball within 40 yards of goal and then he wants to jam it through anyone and anything in his path.
Ruidiaz doesn’t jump off the field as the best player, and his size and work rate won’t wow you right off the bat. Whereas a guy like Nico is always buzzing around running marathons, Ruidiaz is a sprinter who explodes in short bursts and otherwise is only changing the game by the threat of his presence rather than high volume actions. Raul isn’t a practice warrior who is always trying fantastic moves, he is just a pure scoring machine who will need service to utilize his skillset.
This guy is a finisher, not a creator. If I had to pick a current MLS player with a similar style, it would be Josef Martinez. Unless he is put through, Ruidiaz needs vertical service into the box or possession at the top of the 18 and space to unleash powerful shots or use his speed to beat a guy 1-v-1 and finish clean.
I personally think he would be excellent at the point of an offensive attack, allowing him to stay high and run vertical consistently. Seattle will need to get him the ball in dangerous areas and take advantage of his off-ball movement, not expect him to take on a lot of people via dribbling. Players able to recognize his movement and quickly transition the ball into areas he can operate will be essential to his success. Ruidiaz’s speed and thunderous shot really lend themselves to him getting the ball in offensive space, although he doesn’t need much room to get off a shot. When the defense bunkers and plays a compressed field, he excels at getting into shooting spots from any angle and putting attempts on frame. There will be some parried shots and fumbles by keepers who struggle to handle his blasts or defensive deflections that earn corners or squeak into the goal.
If he is paired with another forward, they will have to be someone who can create that space for him, as Raul didn’t show a desire to be in tight spaces working intricate passes, rather looking to touch the ball and then get into space. This means getting out of his way, as well as following up any runs he makes that will pull a defense apart. It is essential that a strike partner be able to link quickly with him as there is no deliberateness to his game. Seattle must take advantage of his direct play ability rather than force him into playing possession and getting beat on by centerbacks.
Raul Ruidiaz is clearly happy to be here. He was laughing and smiling with numerous teammates, interacting with people and looking relaxed. I had to chuckle when he was the only player on the team who wore pants in 65 degree weather.
He's really good. Get hype.