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Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

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Raúl Ruidíaz puts contract concerns aside, focuses on having best season ever

Sounders striker has embraced his role as a leader, setting sights on winning another MLS Cup.

For all the standout performances during the Seattle Sounders’ record-breaking start, none have been bigger than Raúl Ruidíaz. Last Sunday against Atlanta United, Ruidíaz scored his sixth goal of the season — off a perfectly placed João Paulo corner — which is the second most in the league and already half as many goals as his MLS career best.

Ruidíaz’s red hot start could have more to do with a clear state of mind than anything else. Playing the last guaranteed year of a contract can often build pressure or become a distraction that can hinder a player’s attitude and performance within the team. However, “La Pulga” has put aside any thoughts on a potential extension to simply concentrate on achieving every personal objective he has set this season.

“We’ll see what happens,” Raúl told Pulso Sports as he candidly expressed how contract negotiations had affected him in the past. “At one point, I let it drive me crazy.

“I don’t know, it just wouldn’t allow me to perform well, it wouldn’t let me be happy or enjoy. I’ve put that chapter behind, all I want is to relax, focus on what I have left of my contract and continue to give my best on the field.”

Securing the club’s leading goal-scorer over the last three years to a long-term contract would seem like a no-brainer but when it comes to salaries, guarantees and other contract talks hurdles can complicate the situation. Raúl was monumental in helping secure an MLS Cup in 2019 and his stats over the course of his time in the Emerald City are phenomenal; 48 goals to go with 15 assists in league play rank him among the best goal-scorers on a per-90 in league history.

On his accomplishments alone there is no going around keeping Raúl Mario as a Designated Player and there is at least a conversation about an increased salary. Knowing how taxing this conversation can be, it is refreshing to hear from the protagonist himself that he is simply going to put on blinders, concentrate in having his best season thus far and allow his talent to dictate those negotiations.

“If [the Sounders] decide that I should remain here than they can let me know,” he said. “But if they don’t than they can simply not reach out at all and I’ll fulfill my contract but until the last day of my contract I will leave it all on the field to continue giving the fans joy.”

It is that thought process, that willingness to give maximum effort that has Raúl and the team playing at a historic level. But with how much talk there has been surrounding the Sounders’ new formation, it was interesting to hear from him, that despite how effective Ruidíaz has been in front of goal, the stance has not necessarily been a factor in his early success. Actually, Raúl revealed that the change to a 3-5-2 has been rather difficult to get used to, and playing without a classic No. 10 in the lineup is not something he has done much of in his career.

“To be honest it has been very hard for me to understand the concepts of this formation,” Ruidíaz admited. “Most of my career I’ve played with a 10 behind me but that’s what they’re asking from me and what the coach wants so I’m doing what I can to adapt quickly.”

It certainly has not looked that way, going by the results and how dangerous Raúl has looked in most games, it is surprising to hear the struggles he’s had moving from the typical 4-2-3-1 set. The Sounders “goleador” did mention playing with a second striker is one aspect out of the formation change, which has worked to his advantage by having another player up top to play off and praised Will Bruin for being a great compliment at that position.

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“He helps me tremendously and not just this season, every time he comes on he helps a lot by doing a bunch of that dirty work,” Raúl said with conviction in his voice.

Bruin has been crucial in Seattle’s attack even though he is yet to score, his brilliant off-the-ball movement, hold-up play, and clever passing has been key to giving Raúl opportunities on goal and it is something he was not afraid to share.

“You can’t begin to imagine how much he runs, fights, works hard, it is incredible to have a teammate that leaves it all on the field to that degree,” Ruidíaz said about Bruin. “I don’t know how anyone could ignore his great performance game after game.”

One way or another, Ruidíaz is in line to have his best season since signing with the Sounders and at his current pace he could reach another important milestone in his already iconic career. In less than four years, the Universitario product has managed to become the club’s third-leading scorer, an achievement most players would be more than happy to reach but for Ruidíaz it’s not enough.

“I am proud of everything I’ve been able to accomplish during my time here,” he said.

“I am 10 goals from becoming the club’s second all-time leading scorer but in reality I want to take first place and I’m going to do it. I can assure you that because I believe in my capabilities.”

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

This year, Raúl has all the tools to score the additional 15 goals to pass Fredy Montero as the franchise’s top scorer. That said, the Peruvians objective is still very ambitious considering Fredy has shown he is still clinical in front of goal and Raúl who has already been called to play by Perú in the upcoming CONMEBOL qualifiers, could also miss time from June 13-July 10 for Copa América.

Ricardo Gareca has always shown a great deal of faith in the Sounders striker regardless of the scoring drought when representing the “Blanquiroja.” Just a few weeks ago, Peru’s head coach called Raúl one of the best in his position and reiterated how important he was for the national team. Nonetheless, Ruidíaz is not making assumptions and is only thinking of the task at hand.

“For now, all I know is that I’ve been called up for qualifiers, at this time we don’t even know where Copa América will take place,” said Raúl as went over the complications of that tournament.

“Right now I’m just focused on the games I got called up for which are against Colombia and Ecuador, that’s it.”

Looking at Peru’s options at forward, most experts in the matter expect Ruidíaz to be requested for international duties in both of the upcoming FIFA events. Even though it’s an opportunity Raúl will be happy to take advantage of, he expressed a great deal of confidence in this Sounders group to continue playing well even in his absence. With the resiliency the front runners for the Supporters’ Shield have shown, it is easy to understand why he feels that way but what was interesting was his take on how important the homegrown players currently in the roster could be in terms of depth.

“The difference I have seen this year in the homegrown players is their desire, that hunger to take the next step,” Raúl said before naming a few standouts.

“Danny Leyva is an excellent player, to me he is brilliant, at his age the space he finds on the field along with his character is impressive. Josh Atencio in the first games he played was a machine, stealing all the stats of most ground covered and he also just played well. Ethan [Dobbelaere] also took advantage of several opportunities.”

There was a particular pride in the way Raúl talked about this homegrown class, he truly feels like in his third full year he has grown as team leader and role model to many of these young talents. This is a different facet in Ruidíaz’s importance for the organization, perhaps that’s another reason why he is at peace with the front of office having the final say on when and not if he will get a contract extension. In the mean time “La Pulga” will just make sure to put on the field the best version of the “Matador” nine the fan base has come to love.

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