Any concern about Raul Ruidiaz’s health was erased Tuesday.
The Sounders FC striker tested positive for COVID-19 on Oct. 11 while in Peru with his national team. Ruidiaz proclaimed himself asymptomatic and after testing negative for the virus in Peru and by Sounders medical staff he demonstrated his health with a goal and an assist to help Seattle defeat the Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2-0 at Providence Park in Portland.
“Seeing him play tonight, it seemed like he didn’t have coronavirus,” Sounders midfielder Nico Lodeiro said as translated from Spanish during a video conference call with media. “He came with energy and was scoring goals.”
With the win, Seattle (10-4-5) also clinched a playoff berth, pushing its Major League Soccer-leading record to 12 straight. Only the National Hockey League’s Pittsburgh Penguins have a longer active streak with 14 consecutive berths.
“Even when things are tough, that group, they stick together,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said during a video conference call with media. “So, I’m awfully, awfully proud of this particular version of the Sounders and I’m awfully proud of the club for the success that we’ve had in getting into the playoffs (the past) 12 years.”
The Cascadia rivalry was played as a home game for Vancouver on the Portland Timbers’ turf due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada to protect against the spread of coronavirus. The Whitecaps (8-13-0) are sequestered in the city as their home through the remainder of their MLS season.
One look at the Whitecaps’ lineup and the Sounders knew they were in for another defensive night. Vancouver jammed players in the middle and in front of goal to clog pathways for the Rave Green to score. The Sounders didn’t get a shot on goal until the 44th minute of the opening half.
“They were playing very tight,” Lodeiro said of the Whitecaps. “We managed our patience, something that we have not done in previous matches. It was good that after the first goal, the match opened up and we felt a little more in control. We need to know that in situations like this, playing teams that play defensively, we need to keep the ball, be patient and know that eventually things can happen.”
Few have contained Ruidiaz in MLS. He slipped past Vancouver’s defense for a signature run at goal, flicking the ball in for the first score in the 54th minute. Nouhou had the assist, Ruidiaz toeing the line so close the play was initially flagged offside. After review, Ruidiaz was awarded the goal, kissing the palm of his hand that bears a tattoo of his mother.
Minutes later, Ruidiaz worked the ball inside the box again with a Vancouver defender tailing him. The Peruvian made a backward pass to Lodeiro, who scored from just outside the six-yard box for the 2-0 lead in the 60th minute.
Lodeiro took off his shoe, mimicking a call to his father to talk about the score, a tradition when he was alive.
Ruidiaz now has 10 goals and four assists this season while Lodeiro has six goals and eight assists.
“(Raul) and Nico didn’t miss a beat,” Schmetzer said. “(The match) was good for (Raul’s) mental well-being.”
Ruidiaz, 30, is one of the most active Sounders players on social media and it didn’t change as he isolated after testing positive for COVID-19. He used his Instagram account to document the 10-day isolation in a hotel suite equipped with workout equipment and sauna.
“When we first heard about Raul we were all worried,” Lodeiro said of his close friend. “The first thing I did was call him and he said everything was under control.”
The Peruvian national team flew him to Washington last week and Ruidiaz documented a stop to Bellevue where he was examined and tested again for COVID-19. He was able to immediately rejoin the Sounders as a “recovered person” following that negative result.
By Tuesday, Ruidiaz posted a clip of him flying to Portland via chartered flight with his Sounders teammates for the match.
In addition to Ruidiaz, the Sounders returned midfielder Gustav Svensson (Sweden) and center back Xavier Arreaga (Ecuador) to the starting lineup for the first time since defeating Vancouver 3-1 at CenturyLink Field on Oct. 3.
Arreaga and Svensson were also competing with their national teams but had a nine-day quarantine upon return to the Sounders earlier this month per league rules.
“We’re happy that guys are coming back,” said Schmetzer, who also played midfielder Joevin Jones as a substitute in the 73rd minute. Jones missed the past six matches with a high-ankle sprain. “Happy that we can start pushing, now that we’re in the playoffs, start pushing toward our next goal, which is to repeat as champions.”