SEATTLE — As Friday’s training session was winding down, Raúl Ruidíaz couldn’t help but fire off one final shot during a finishing drill. Brian Schmetzer, who was himself heading into the Lumen Field locker room, immediately turned to his forward and sternly yelled “That’s enough.”
Ruidíaz sheepishly grinned and complied.
The light scolding came just a day before Ruidíaz will potentially make his return from his most recent hamstring injury, this one which has kept him out of the Seattle Sounders’ lineup for the past six league games. It’s the third time this year that a hamstring injury has caused Ruidíaz to miss games, and the continuation of a situation that dates back to 2021.
Each time, the Sounders tweak their approach to bringing Ruidíaz back, but they seem to have proceeded with even more caution now.
“He would have told you he was ready to play two weeks ago,” Schmetzer said after announcing that Ruidíaz would be available off the bench for Saturday’s match against the New York Red Bulls. “He had to follow the training protocol. The training protocol with Raúl is not simple. There’s going to be a season-long plan to keep him healthy, which includes limiting his minutes coming out of the gate, making sure his training plan is appropriate. There are some days he’ll be off to the side doing work, just making sure the hamstrings are getting stronger.”
“It’s just the start, the first step toward getting him back 100%. It’s good to have him back, he’s in a good mood. The trainer think it’s safe, he can play some minutes if we need him.”
Despite all the injuries, Ruidíaz has managed to remain reasonably productive. He has two goals in 248 minutes this year and 15 goals in about 2,100 minutes across all competitions since the start of last season. His average of .59 goals per 90 minutes in that time would rank among the top 15 players in MLS.
Ruidíaz last played on April 15, logging 82 minutes in what eventually became a 4-1 loss to the Portland Timbers. At the time, Schmetzer said he allowed Ruidíaz to play a bit longer than was originally planned, in part because Ruidíaz had scored and the Sounders were playing well. Ruidíaz suffered a hamstring strain the following week during training. Whether or not those two things are directly related, Schmetzer said they are going to be even more cautious going forward.
“That’s where I have to accept some responsibility, in the heat of the moment of games,” Schmetzer said. “He has time limits. We do it by time, but by actual volume, too. When he hits those markers he’s gotta come off.”