LAFC coach Bob Bradley spent another week thinking about Raul Ruidiaz.
The Sounders’ striker has caused literal fits from Bradley on the sideline of matches against Seattle because of Ruidiaz’s scoring capability. The Peruvian was signed by the Sounders in June 2018 and has tallied five goals in four appearances against the Black and Gold.
“Ruidiaz, for whatever reason, he’s always sharp and comes to play against us; he’s a good player,” Bradley said during a videoconference call with media this week. “What makes him good is his alertness, his awareness, his sharpness for where the ball is going to come, how to make a little space for himself. So he’s an interesting challenge, because he’s not big but he’s smart, and he reads plays very quickly. So if you lose the attention even for a split second, he finds a moment to take advantage.”
Add a national spotlight and Ruidiaz is more lethal. The Sounders hope that continues Saturday when the club travels to Banc of California Stadium to play LAFC on ESPN.
Ruidiaz’s performances against the budding franchise helped cultivate a semblance of a Western Conference rivalry that’s only a notch less passionate than the Cascadia derby against Portland. LAFC has the all-time MLS regular-season edge at 4-2-1, but the Sounders — led by goals from Ruidiaz — are 2-1 all-time in postseason matches against LAFC.
The dagger was the Western Conference championship game in 2019. The Black and Gold were touted all year as one of the best teams in MLS history, backing it up by winning the Supporters’ Shield with a league-record 72 points, the biggest goal differential (48) and forward Carlos Vela scoring a league-record 34 goals for the Golden Boot award.
But a Ruidiaz brace in the conference title game — on LAFC’s field — silenced the hype. The Sounders stole a 3-1 result and advanced to win the 2019 MLS Cup.
The Sounders defeated LAFC 3-1 at Lumen Field in the opening round of the 2020 playoffs.
“He likes the big stage, big games,” Sounders forward Will Bruin said of Ruidiaz during a videoconference call with media. “Going into LA, a nationally televised game, I’m sure he’s going to be up for it. That’s Raul. You can never turn off against him because he’s going to score just like that.”
The Sounders’ new two-forward formation increases Ruidiaz’s probability to score. He had a brace in the 4-0 win against Minnesota in Seattle’s MLS opener last week.
But those scores didn’t materialize for Ruidiaz until after the hour mark. Minnesota pressed higher up the field than the Sounders anticipated in the debut of the formation.
“They made it very difficult for us,” Sounders fullback Alex Roldan said in audio provided by MLS. “We don’t stop until we succeed in what we want to do, and the second half proved that. Looking forward to LAFC, it’s going to be a big test.”
Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said the team worked on ball movement in training this week and tweaked some of the failings against Minnesota. The club is again expected to be without midfielder Nico Lodeiro. The captain is recovering from a left-quad strain and likely will be replaced in the lineup by Josh Atencio, the teenager from Bellevue.
“Our guys looked a little nervous trying to play out of the back in certain moments in the first half against Minnesota,” Schmetzer said. “But it was just the first game.”
The Sounders also listed forward Fredy Montero (left quad strain) and midfielder Jimmy Medranda (left hamstring strain) as questionable for Saturday’s matchup. Montero subbed on in the 72nd minute against Minnesota and recorded a goal.
LAFC could be without Vela (right quad) and midfielder Diego Rossi (left hamstring). Forward Corey Baird, the 2018 MLS Rookie of the Year while with Real Salt Lake, replaced Rossi in LAFC’s opener last week. Baird scored the first goal in the team’s 2-0 win against Austin FC.
“I’m thankful that Bob appreciates Raul’s talent,” Schmetzer said when told of Bradley’s comments. “It’s good to hear other coaches having respect for your players. … (LAFC) have a good team, too. That’s why it’s always a big game. Big-time players step up in those big moments and you certainly can label Raul as a big-time player.”