The art of the goal: how Sounders forward Raul Ruidiaz mastered his career as a goalscorer


The all-time favorite was born out of frustration – a common feeling among shooters when they don’t hit enough.

Only Raul Ruidiaz chose to resolve the perceived issue on his own instead of complaining to his teammates about the selection of the assists. Halfway through his 13-year career, Ruidiaz began working on distance shooting during training.

Like the distance from the central circle.

On a scorching and wacky July night, a game against MLS expansion team Austin FC was an opportunity to transfer training to a game in front of 20,738 people at Q2 Stadium. With the Sounders FC starting an MLS record of five teenagers in the game, they needed a proven veteran scorer to deliver.

Enter Ruidiaz, who sent the excitement to another stratosphere with a 40-yard scoreline that curled within reach of 6-foot-3 Austin goaltender Brad Stuver. The stun was enough to give the Sounders a 1-0 road victory.

Even with a 2% chance of hiding in the back of the net, “It wasn’t just an accident,” said Ruidiaz, translated from Spanish.

Austin’s goal is just the latest example of how the Peruvian continues to evolve his profession to quickly become one of the Sounders’ all-time top scorers. In four seasons, Ruidiaz’s 61 goals in all competitions have surpassed US national team legend Clint Dempsey (57) and original club Fredy Montero (68). The latter resigned in March for his sixth season in Rave Green.

This season’s tips and tweaks saw Ruidiaz rack up 17 goals to tie Oba Martins’ record in a single 2014 season. Ruidiaz still has at least one game to break the record. The Sounders open their playoffs Tuesday at Lumen Field.

“I always try to aim for the goal regardless of the distance, it’s my way of doing things,” said Ruidiaz. “I only learned this (technique) in recent years. As a goalscorer sometimes I don’t have a lot of scoring chances. I started to do this to have more opportunities.

But about these keys. Statistically, Ruidiaz sees the ball a lot.

The forward’s 737 touches this season are his biggest since signing with the Sounders in 2018, according to

“My job is to (him) get the ball back,” said Kelyn Rowe, a midfielder who has played in every Sounders game since signing in January. “It’s by no means rocket science, and I’ve been told that as a young player too – win the ball and give it to the best players. Here is.”

For Austin’s score, it was Rowe’s deep ball that deflected defenseman Matt Besler. A missed opportunity – and lost contact – that has already happened in Ruidiaz’s career, which saw him display a new skill three days before his birthday.

With Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer preserving the veteran, Ruidiaz replaced in the 54e minute and nailed the winner of the match to the 67e. Shooting was his only one of the game, scoring 17 hits that night.

Seattle Sounders FC forward Raul Ruidiaz takes a penalty for the equalizer in the second half on Monday, November 1, 2021 in Seattle.  (Jennifer Buchanan / The Seattle Times)

“Where I was, where the ball bounced, almost every goalkeeper in the world would be out of line because the ball was far away,” Ruidiaz said. “So that’s something I knew instinctively. I calculated it in my head, so when I had a chance on a ball like that, I shot.

In fact, none of Ruidiaz’s scores can be classified as fluke.

Attend enough workouts at Starfire Sports’ Sounders facilities in Tukwila and variation in all of her scores can be spotted at any given time. Even panenkas – a distinct type of penalty kick named after Czech midfielder Antonin Panenka. Instead of throwing the ball right or left in a shootout to win the 1976 UEFA European Championship, Panenka placed the ball in the center of the goal. Most keepers pick a side to dive in and can’t recover to save the slow shot. The scale of the match and the artistry of a surprisingly effective shot earned Panenka the goal of the same name.

17 by Ruidiaze goal of the MLS season – a penalty in the 51st minute against the Los Angeles Galaxy – was a panenka against goalkeeper Jonathan Bond.

“I decide whether or not to panenka in the week leading up to the game,” said Ruidiaz, who has made four of his five penalty attempts this year. “If I practice the penalty, the panenka, then I decide I will. I feel more confident with the panenka than hitting it one way or the other because the keepers will always go one way or the other.

However, when exploiting the means to score, the goalkeeper is not a major factor in Ruidiaz’s training. He said 99% of the job is to make sure his mentality stays strong, still believing he’s the top scorer on the pitch despite his modest 5-7 stature.

On game days, the secret to Ruidiaz’s scoring lies in a portable Bose boombox designed for DJs. The hypnotic rhythms of reggaeton, salsa and hip-hop echo through the speakers as Ruidiaz steps off the team bus and heads for the stadium locker rooms.

The head-turning volume drowns out outside noise. His walk is more of a rhythmic dance on the rhythms. The swing warms the hips, and the unpredictable movements of the feet elicit a reaction of surprise, the onlookers’ eyes widening above their face masks.

Unexpected moves, Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei struggles to assess when defending a creative striker like Ruidiaz.

“What I have noticed as a goalkeeper is that guys with a low center of gravity are very sneaky,” Frei said. “They can hide their moves better because their agility is just better than a tall guy who has to move his entire body weight – it kind of telegraphs their moves a little earlier than someone like a Raul.”

For most of the season, Ruidiaz was among MLS’s top two scorers despite several national team selections for the World Cup playoffs where he played sparingly as a reserve. Ruidiaz injured his left hamstring in the first half against the San Jose Quakes in September. He netted a brace in the 3-1 win before retiring during the break.

Seattle Sounders forward Raul Ruidiaz (9) scores from a penalty against UANL Tigres goaltender Miguel Ortega (30) during a game on Tuesday August 10, 2021 at Lumen Field in Seattle, Wash. (Amanda Snyder / The Seattle Times)

Ruidiaz missed a month of competition due to the injury. He still finished fourth in the MLS Golden Boot race. New York City FC forward Valentin Castellanos won with 19 goals, his eight assists serving as a tiebreaker with DC United forward Ola Kamara.

But Castellanos greatly outnumbered the top scorers in attempted shots (132) and shots on target (57) in 32 matches. Ruidiaz’s 17 goals have been scored in just 91 attempts, 38 on target in 26 matches.

The already impressive numbers are even more impressive when you consider the timing of the goals. Austin’s goal was a game-winner. The panenka tied a game where the Sounders needed to earn points and remain in contention for the No.1 seed in the Western Conference playoff standings.

In fact, the Sounders are 10-0-3 when Ruidiaz scores.

“He’s got flair,” said Hall of Fame keeper Kasey Keller, who is a broadcaster for the Sounders. “But the players you invest the most money in, you need them to show up when it matters the most. You will talk about players who score a touchdown but you already lose 28-0 or you win 28-0.

“Can you have the guy who can score you when you need that goal?” Raul was able to do this regularly during his time here. This is what sets it apart from the Sounders.

Ruidiaz’s best season in his career remains the 2013 campaign with Universitario in the Premier League of his native Peru. It was his second of three stints with the club, scoring 21 goals in 39 appearances that year, leading Universitario to a league championship – his second overall with “La U”.

The Sounders increased their interest in Ruidiaz when local star Jordan Morris tore his right ACL in a CONCACAF Champions League game ahead of the 2018 MLS season. Ruidiaz played for Club Atletico Morelia in La Liga MX and was twice the league’s top scorer.

When Ruidiaz signed as designated player in June 2018, the Sounders scored 11 goals in MLS and were 11 points behind Cascadia rivals Vancouver for sixth and final playoff spot.

Seattle signed a deal with Ruidiaz worth around $ 14 million, including $ 7 million in transfer fees to Morelia, until the 2021 season. The forward ended his first season in MLS with 10 goals in 14 games with an assist, the Sounders losing in the first round of the playoffs.

Schmetzer confirmed earlier this fall that the Sounders had exercised their 2022 option on Ruidiaz. There are still reports that famous Liga MX team Cruz Azul are courting a return to Mexico.

“There have been a lot of rumors, a lot of gossip and I want to end the year before I think about the future,” Ruidiaz said.

Second-seeded Seattle will host seventh-seeded Real Salt Lake on Tuesday at Lumen Field in the first round of the playoffs. The teams split their regular season streaks, each winning their home game.

Ruidiaz scored the winning goal from the penalty spot in the 88e minute of Seattle’s 2-1 result against RSL at Lumen Field in June.

“This year has been difficult because there have been a lot of games,” said Ruidiaz, who still manages the hamstring injury. “I missed a lot more games with callbacks than with injuries, but I still had a few injuries this year. I’m proud to be able to score so many goals and have scored a lot since joining the Sounders. … My favorite is on the other side of the goal to the far post. This is where I think I am the most lethal. I have practiced it all my life. I hit it differently and generate more power because I practice it a lot more. But a lot depends on the position of the field.

And that includes from the deepest, no matter the keys.

Seattle Sounders FC forward Raul Ruidiaz defeats Santos Laguna's defense for the game-winning goal in stoppage time during the second half on September 14, 2021, in Seattle.  218207 (Jennifer Buchanan / The Seattle Times)


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