It is no secret that ensuring MLS players obtain U.S Green Cards as soon as possible is a goal for all clubs in order to open up an international roster spot. However, this process can be tedious and depending on the countries involved, the process of securing one can become unpredictable.
This season, Peruvian players appear to be in a particular hurry to acquire their permanent residency; Raul Ruidiaz, Andy Polo and Marcos Lopez were all in Lima submitting the necessary paperwork through the embassy. As of Thursday, the Sounders forward was close to finalizing his portion of the migratory procedure and should be able to join preseason training camp within a few days.
The Western Conference champs officially started their 2021 training camp on March 1, while Raul was still in Peru, but being away from the team did not stop him from shifting gears into full-on preseason preparation form. In fact, during an exclusive conversation with bilingual media platform Pulso Sports, “La Pulga” revealed he had been training directly with the Peruvian National team staff in their Sports Complex.
“I’m taking advantage of the days I’m here in Peru to work with the national team and stay in top form,” he said. “They have been putting me through a very good workout program, one which I am already thankful for.
“I am focused on having a great preseason. I believe that is the foundation of every soccer player so it prepares for anything this year could bring. If I don’t do a good job in the preseason, there are too many negatives which could derive from that.”
Raul’s commitment to begin a rigorous training regimen in late February was to ensure he was game fit for two things; first was the world-class soccer played in the CONMEBOL qualifiers and secondly for the MLS regular season. With the qualifiers officially canceled in South America, the Sounders’ No. 9 concentrated solely on his club and reaching his season objectives in his fourth Major League Soccer.
“I just want to win another championship with the Sounders, there is no greater feeling than that,” Raul said, putting the priority on team accomplishments over any individual accolades.
“You have no Idea the sensations that go through a player when they become champions and you lift that cup. That’s something I have already experienced in the United States (MLS), and I want to relive that this year.”
For a team with quite a few question marks caused by the loss of several key players, this sort of talk could sound premature. However, despite noting how difficult it could be to replace players like Gustav Svensson, Kelvin Leerdam and Joevin Jones, Raul sounded extremely confident in the adjustments Brian Schmetzer could make to cope with those absences.
Exploring different formations early this season is one way to potentially maximize the current roster and to bide time until reinforcements arrive during the summer transfer window. Either way, Raul was extremely assertive in saying he is comfortable conducting any role he is given in the attacking end as long as it helps the team win.
“Because of the important players that are gone and the unfortunate injury [Jordan] Morris suffered, a coach needs to look for other options,” he said. “I have played under several formations, so I don’t believe that I would be affected by any formation Brian decides on. I am always willing to do what he asks.”
If there is one aspect of the Rave Green with some undeniable continuity from last season, it is the entire coaching staff as they are all returning for yet another year. The Sounders officially announced last week that assistants Gonzalo Pineda, Preki and Dijimi Traore had been given contract extensions, as well as Tom Dutra and High Performance Director Adam Owen, who Raul hoped had returned.
“There were so many rumors, some that were true at one point but never flourished. I’m just happy they will be back,” stated Ruidiaz.
“It’s crucial that Brian stayed as the head of that staff. That Gonzo stayed is fundamental and other assistants that are also important like Preki, also Adam who is the physical trainer, who is excellent in his role and responsible for the improved physical performance the team had last season.”
From a team standpoint, it is clear how confident Raul feels. Now, on a personal level coming from a season he calls his best since signing in Seattle and falling one goal short of tying with Diego Rossi as the league’s top scorer, the Sounders “Goleador” wants to set the benchmark even higher in 2021. He admitted to being especially motivated to battle in the race for the league’s Golden Boot now that players like Carlos Vela and Josef Martinez are in line to once again play a full season.
In addition to his added motivation and fantastic preseason preparation, we could see the best version of Ruidiaz as he’ll look to secure a contract extension this year in the best way he knows how, and that is scoring goals. Raul is under contract through 2021 with a club option for 2022, but no player likes to enter that option year without any guarantees, and he certainly is not the exception. He did make sure to express how much he enjoys Seattle and denied ever looking or hearing any offers from other teams as it was rumored in the offseason.
“I am under contract with Sounders. I am very happy here, my family is delighted here and that’s important for me to perform well,” he said. “Therefore, I am only focused on doing things right with Seattle and respect my contract. I remain very happy with the city, with the team, with the organization and all of the people here.”