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What is going on with Raúl Ruidíaz?

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Ruidíaz still hasn’t signed an extension as the Sounders prepare to open training camp.

MLS: Leagues Cup Semifinals-Winner QF1 vs Winner QF3 Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

One of the biggest questions heading into this offseason was surrounding Raúl Ruidíaz’s status. When last we checked in, Ruidíaz had made it abundantly clear that he was unhappy with the state of negotiations on a potential contract extension. Although the Sounders have picked up Ruidíaz’s 2022 contract option and have insisted all along that they expect him to play here this season, they are also keenly aware that extending him would be ideal.

With training camp opening this week, now seems like a good time to revisit all of this and project where it might go.

Why hasn’t something been signed already?

The simple answer is the two sides don’t seem to quite see eye-to-eye Ruidíaz’s worth and/or how long he’ll continue to be able to produce at this rate.

Do we know what the Sounders offered?

We don’t. But he was an absolute bargain during his first four seasons, at least as far as MLS forwards go. Despite scoring 19 goals across all competitions to give him 61 in his Sounders career, there were 24 MLS players — and 13 forwards — who made more than his $2.1 million in total compensation. Given all that, you have to assume he was due a raise. My guess is probably something less than $3 million a year, though.

Do we know what Ruidíaz wanted?

We don’t. There were some rumors that he was seeking Carlos Vela-type money — Vela was the league’s top paid player last year at around $6.3 million — but that doesn’t seem very likely. More likely, he was looking for something closer to $4 million a year.

Didn’t I hear he signed for even more than that?

There was a Tweet put out claiming he had agreed to a three-year contract at $7 million per year, but it was pretty clearly a joke (or at least pretty clear if you noticed the hashtag).

Can you explain that for me?

Dia de los Inocentes is basically the April Fool’s Day of Latin America. Nothing containing that hashtag is meant to be taken seriously.

What’s a reasonable contract?

In all seriousness, a “reasonable” contract is however much Ruidíaz can get. It’s not my money, after all, and he’s a good player. I don’t begrudge him for getting paid. But if I were to put on my GM hat and look around the league, I think it would be very easy to justify an annual salary of a little more $3 million a year that runs for at least three years. Franco Jara, who is almost exactly two years older than Ruidíaz, signed a very similar contract to that two years ago with FC Dallas. Ruidíaz has been better than Jara in MLS but they do have pretty similar résumés. Jara has 14 goals in about 2,600 MLS minutes, but he earned that contract after coming off a five-year run in Liga MX where he had scored at least 14 goals in four of those seasons. The next tier of highly paid forwards in MLS are guys like Jozy Altidore ($3.6M) and Josef Martínez ($3.9M), both of whom were a bit younger when they signed those deals. Something that falls between Jara and Altidore seems pretty fair.

What if the Sounders and Ruidíaz don’t come to terms before the start of the season?

The Sounders are pretty adamant that they expect Ruidíaz to suit up for them in 2022 no matter what. He’s likely due something like $2.5 million, so it’s not like he’s exactly being asked to play for free.

Should we be worried about him forcing a move, like Oba did in 2016, or refusing to play?

I wouldn’t say it’s entirely out of the question, but it doesn’t strike me as particularly likely. The thing to remember about Oba’s situation was that there was a team in China basically offering to triple his salary. The only way Ruidíaz is going to make a real stink is if he’s assured of making significantly more money somewhere else. Ruidíaz is a great player, but it’s worth noting that he was four years younger and coming off two highly productive seasons in Mexico when he first joined the Sounders. If a Liga MX team was going to throw a bunch of money at him, they could have done it then and it would have made a lot more sense. As it is, there are only eight players in Liga MX making more than Ruidíaz makes now.

What if someone does throw a bunch of money at him?

Even if a Mexican team were to swoop in with a really attractive offer, given the state of Liga MX-MLS relations it seems very unlikely they’d try to force it by ignoring the Sounders’ contract. That’s what happened when Camilo Sanvezzo forced his way to Querétaro, but even that resulted in the Whitecaps getting a $2.1 million transfer fee. There’s no reason to think the Sounders’ wouldn’t get a comparable transfer fee if Ruidíaz wanted to go to Mexico.

But what if he went somewhere with less of a relationship with MLS?

To be clear, there’s still some unsettled law around unilateral team options — which this is — and there are definitely federations out there willing to ignore them. One of those is Saudi Arabia, where Kaku went a couple years ago. The Red Bulls are still pursuing compensation for that and haven’t been able to collect anything at this point. There was a rumor that a Saudi team was interested in Ruidíaz but that remains stuck in legal limbo.

How big of a concern is all of this?

Make no mistake: Ruidíaz is a very important piece to the Sounders’ puzzle. He’s been their leading scorer in each of his four seasons and he’s scored some of the biggest goals in franchise history. If the Sounders have any sort of hope in Concacaf Champions League, they probably need Ruidíaz to play well. It almost goes without saying that he’s more likely to play well if he’s happy. I know the Sounders know this and they’re going to make every reasonable effort to get him signed. I think a contract gets done, if not before the start of the season then relatively early. If I had to guess what the numbers look like, I’d say something like three years and $10 million guaranteed. That would make Ruidíaz the top paid player on the roster, likely put him in the top 10 in the league and send a clear message that he’s one of the most valued players in North America without necessarily breaking the bank or undermining the Sounders’ ability to be competitive years down the line.