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What can Sounders do about Raúl Ruidíaz?

The Peruvian striker is going to miss another 4-5 weeks after suffering a hamstring injury.

MLS: Los Angeles FC at Seattle Sounders FC Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

SEATTLE — The results of Raúl Ruidíaz’s most recent MRI are in and they are “not good news.” Seattle Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said Ruidíaz would likely be out 4-5 weeks with right hamstring injury, this time suffered during Wednesday’s training session.

“We’re going to try to get him right, he’s still part of the team,” Schmetzer said following Friday’s training session at Lumen Field. “We’ll take a little extra time and make sure when he comes back he’s ready to go.”

This is the latest in an ongoing battle with muscle injuries that have plagued Ruidíaz since the latter part of the 2021 season and the second time he’s been shelved this season alone. A year ago his season was interrupted at least four separate times by muscle injuries, limiting to him to about 1,300 minutes in the regular season.

With at least the last few injuries, the Sounders have attempted different approaches to bringing him back. For instance, Ruidíaz missed the season-opener after suffering a hamstring injury following the Club World Cup and the Sounders put him on a modified plan that limited both his training and playing time as a response. Although he had sometimes bristled at those limitations, he had at least remained healthy for the last six weeks and he seemed to be rounding into form with goals in his past two appearances.

It came as a blow to both the Sounders and Ruidíaz.

“Sometimes even strong personalities are down in the dumps,” Schmetzer said. “That’s part of who we are as human beings. We just try to lift him up. He’ll get in the gym, he’ll get strong, and he’ll be OK.”

In the hope of finding something that had previously been missed, the Sounders did some new testing that included looking at his nerves, examining his running gait and even checking with a chiropractor to see if his body was misaligned, all to no avail.

“We’ve looked at everything,” Schmetzer said. “We’re in touch with his guys in Peru; it’s been an all-hands-on-deck effort. We’ll get it right.”

Whether Ruidíaz returns in four weeks or takes a bit longer to come back, at this point it seems almost naive to believe this will be the last of his injury woes. Since September 2021, this is at least the seventh time a muscle injury has cost him at least one game.

As Schmetzer said, though, Ruidíaz remains an important part of the Sounders’ plans, at least for now.

Following the 2021 season — before injuries had become such a prominent part of the narrative around Ruidíaz — the Sounders signed him to a new three-year contract that guaranteed him through 2024. Although the Sounders had a club option for 2022 that had already been exercised, Ruidíaz had made it clear he wanted a longer extension. The Sounders essentially gambled that the possibility of Ruidíaz remaining productive into his mid-30s was worth avoiding any distractions heading into Concacaf Champions League. The short-term part of that bet paid off handsomely, with Ruidíaz scoring three massive goals in the final three games of the CCL campaign.

But Ruidíaz ended up missing 11 of the Sounders’ final 21 games of the season, including the last three when the team was absolutely desperate for wins.

That injury history is a major reason why the Sounders’ biggest offseason priority was signing a backup forward, which they did by acquiring Héber in a trade with New York City FC.

Héber has an injury history of his own, but is currently healthy and has scored two goals in 181 minutes. Jordan Morris has also filled in admirably, scoring five goals in his three starts at the No. 9 spot and eight goals overall. Fredy Montero also received a start in place of Ruidíaz, but seems to be more of an emergency option at this point.

The Sounders could also bolster their forwards by signing Eythor Bjørgolfsson from Tacoma Defiance. Bjørgolfsson has one goal in three MLS Next Pro appearances, has been training with the first team most of this week, and has drawn praise from Defiance head coach Wade Webber.

If the Sounders really got desperate, they do have the ability to buy-out one player during the season, which would allow them to open both a Designated Player spot and any associated salary-cap hit. There are no indications they intend to do that, however, and it would likely cost the Sounders about $5 million if they did so this summer.

But if Ruidíaz can’t remain healthy for at least a significant portion of this season? One imagines more drastic options would likely be on the table.

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