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Raúl Ruidíaz takes another step toward returning

Sounders forward was a partial participant in training and could feature against LAFC.

Kayla Mehring

TUKWILA — For the first time in more than two weeks, Raúl Ruidíaz was able to participate in some of the short-sided games at Seattle Sounders training on Tuesday. It’s the most significant sign yet that he’s nearing a return to the field after injuring his hamstring against the Portland Timbers on July 9.

“Raúl is looking very good,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer told reporters. “He’s shooting, almost in full training.”

Schmetzer wasn’t quite ready to declare Ruidíaz ready to play on Friday against LAFC, however. The Sounders have pledged to bring back Ruidíaz slowly after he suffered an injury in his first game back from straining his other hamstring. Even if he plays, it would most likely be off the bench.

“Is LAFC an intriguing target, intriguing timeline to get him? Yeah,” Schmetzer said. “But I’m not so sure the risk/reward is enough, even though it’s on national TV against the Supporters’ Shield leaders and all that.”

Ruidíaz has now missed over half of the Sounders’ matches since last October, suffering five separate muscle injuries in that time. But the urge to get him back on the field is trumped only by the desire to make sure he can stay there. Not only is Ruidíaz still producing when he plays — he’s second on the team with 8 goals despite all that missed time — the Sounders are 6-3-2 across all competitions when Ruidíaz starts this year, as opposed to 7-7-4 in their other matches. To make a serious run at MLS Cup, the Sounders will almost certainly need Ruidiaz fully fit.

Salt to the wound

In addition to serving a suspension for receiving two yellow cards against the Colorado Rapids on Saturday, Kelyn Rowe will also have to pay a fine for “failing to leave the field in a timely manner.” MLS has cracked down on situations like that in recent years, but this seemed especially harsh since it did not slow down the restart as the referee was arguing with various players anyway.

While most seemed to agree that the ejection itself was soft, there was definitely some dispute as to how fairly the league’s point of emphasis about delaying restarts was applied.

Albert Rusnák, while careful not to directly criticize the referee, clearly did not think the card was deserved.

“I’m not going to comment, I’ll get fined,” he said before commenting. “The Colorado player wasn’t going to play the ball. They took five minutes on every throw-in, on every goal-kick and one minute into the second half you’re going to book him when there’s not a Colorado player that could even play the ball fast? There was another ball five yards away.”

Schmetzer, however, took a significantly more hard-line defense of the call.

“I believe he should have been sent off,” Schmetzer said. “That’s in the rules. Now was their guy ready to throw the ball in? Did it really delay the game? Did their goalkeeper delay the game? I get all that, but the rules say that if you kick the ball away or throw it away, it’s a yellow.”

Set-piece struggles

A year after sharing the league lead in set-piece goals, the Sounders now find themselves toward the bottom of the rankings in that particular category. The discrepancy has caught Schmetzer’s attention.

“We pay a lot of mind to it,” he said. “Interesting stat there is on expected goals we’re higher up the list. Have we put ourselves in positions to score like we did last year and the ball’s just not going in, or are we doing something wrong with delivering the ball? Have teams figured us out? We’re digging into that now for this final push, we’re digging into it hard.”

Nouhou returns

After missing the previous game for what Schmetzer deemed “disciplinary reasons”, Nouhou was back at training and is apparently in line to resume his spot in the lineup. His return comes at a particularly opportune time, with LAFC and their star-studded offense waiting in the wings.

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