TUKWILA — There were a nervy few minutes toward the end of Tuesday’s training session. While the team was playing six-a-side scrimmages, Raúl Ruidíaz walked off the pitch and seemed a bit frustrated. After heading toward the locker rooms, he instead decided to take a lap around the training field.
After training, however, head coach Brian Schmetzer explained what had happened.
“He doesn’t like being modified in training,” Schmetzer told reporters. “We have a specific plan for his hamstrings and sometimes players who are super competitive don’t like it when they can’t play as many games as their buddies.”
The “modified training” is the latest attempt by the Sounders to find a way to keep Ruidíaz on the pitch. Dating back to September 2021, Ruidíaz has been dealing with one muscle injury after another. He’s missed more than half of the Sounders’ games in that time, most recently the regular-season opener against the Colorado Rapids. Ruidíaz has played in each of the Sounders’ past two games, but only as a substitute off the bench. He played about 10 minutes against Real Salt Lake and then came in around the 60th minute against FC Cincinnati.
“This is probably going to be all year,” Schmetzer said. “Raúl is going to be on that program, he doesn’t like it, but it’s the best thing for his hamstrings. It’s the best thing to keep him healthy. We’ll work through that.”
Even in that somewhat limited time, though, Ruidíaz managed to pull off at least one highlight-reel moment when he scored on a backheel volley.
Cheeeeeeky Raúl pic.twitter.com/Cbweodvejs— Seattle Sounders FC (@SoundersFC) March 14, 2023
Reflecting on the loss
Cristian Roldan described Saturday’s 1-0 loss to FC Cincinnati as “humbling”, but also implied that it was an experience they can learn from.
“We were ready tactically and felt like we were in a good position going into the game,” Roldan said. “It was just the intensity with which they pressed. They came in understanding what we did in the first two games and they brought it, kinda like we did. But we need to make those tactical adjustments during the run of play when we see that developing and happening.”
Aside from simply being sharper, one thing Roldan thought he and fellow winger Jordan Morris could have done a bit better is sit deeper.
“Their press is based on their wingbacks,” Roldan said. “They’re the ones doing the dirty work. If you make them run 50 yards instead of 30, that’s a lot of extra running for them and can create some more space.”
This weekend’s home game against LAFC — who will be playing their fourth game in 10 days — is a chance for the Sounders to put those lessons to work.
“The intensity that FC Cincinnati brought to us, we have to bring to LAFC,” Roldan said. “That’s really important. They have a lot of miles under the legs. We dealt with that last year. They’re a team that doesn’t want to sit in a low block for too long, so if we can make them defend a little bit we’ll be in good shape.”
It wasn’t the most consequential decision, but there were several changes on the back end of the Sounders’ bench for Saturday’s game. Gone were Dylan Teves, Danny Leyva and Reed Baker-Whiting. In their place were Sota Kitahara and Ethan Dobbelaere.
The point of the change wasn’t so much a reflection of the depth chart, but more of an attempt to balance the needs of young players. Rather than getting the experience of traveling with the first team — but likely not playing — Teves, Leyva and Baker-Whiting all played in a preseason match with Tacoma Defiance.
Every week, Schmetzer meets with Sounders GM Craig Waibel, VP of Player Development Henry Brauner and Defiance head coach Wade Webber to determine a plan for the team’s younger players.
“We’re being more strategic with some of the young players,” Schmetzer said. “It’s a new thing that we’re trying to do better. We could take the top 20 guys, but they don’t play, miss training days, miss training minutes, it’s something we’ve been working on.”