With a trio of late scores, Sounders FC forward Raul Ruidiaz made the club’s second restart to this staccato 2020 Major League Soccer season a success.
Ruidiaz scored two goals and had an assist to lead Seattle to a 3-0 win against the Portland Timbers at Providence Park on Sunday.
“We were out of rhythm, again,” defender Kelvin Leerdam said via video conference call with media. “When the first goal came from Raul, out of nowhere actually, the game opened up more. … It’s a good restart for us to win a game like this.”
Ruidiaz pinged his first goal off the crossbar in the 72nd minute, a crafty score off a pass from Joevin Jones while Ruidiaz was running diagonally in front of the goal and well covered by Timbers defender Bill Tuiloma.
For the second goal, Ruidiaz was the recipient of a long ball from Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei and header flick from Will Bruin. Ruidiaz then dribbled deep into the box before sending the ball over Portland keeper Steve Clark in the 83rd minute for the score.
Ruidiaz set up teammate Leerdam for the Sounders’ final goal in the 85th minute.
“For (Raul) to see Kelvin and be like, ‘You know, I don’t care who scores the goal, he’s got the better angle, it was really nice to see that on offense and defense,” said Frei during a video conference call with media.
The win moved the Sounders (3-1-2) into second in the MLS Western Conference standings.
As winners of the 2019 MLS Cup, Seattle expected to compartmentalize its defense of the title due to the addition of CONCACAF Champions League play, the MLS regular season and international breaks. Instead, the season is being fragmented by a global coronavirus pandemic and the Sounders entered Sunday still searching for ways to create magic in matches despite month-long layoffs between games.
“We would admit that we haven’t been playing the best football in the past few months,” said Frei, who finished with five saves. “We were sputtering a little bit. You’re always looking for something to kick start it and why not here in your archrival’s home?”
Sunday night’s match was the first for Seattle since getting booted from the MLS is Back tournament in the Round of 16 on July 27. Portland (3-2-1) won the event held on Walt Disney World’s complex by defeating Orlando City SC on Aug. 11
Portland nearly started the match against Seattle with the same gusto that won it the tournament in Florida. Defender Chris Duvall collected a volley and sent it in with a powerful left-footed kick in the fifth minute. But the goal was disallowed after a Video Assistant Referee (VAR) review showed the Timbers were offside on the buildup to the score.
The home side had another solid attempt in stoppage time, but midfielder Diego Valeri sailed the shot over the net.
Portland scored 14 goals in the MLS is Back tourney. The club outshot Seattle 5-1 in the opening half.
The Cascadia derby was played without fans in the stands due to Oregon government restrictions in efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19. Another twist to the longstanding, heated rivalry was the clubs joining in kneeling before kickoff to recognize the global uprising sparked by the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white Minnesota police officer in May. Players for both clubs also wore Black Lives Matter T-shirts to support the movement.
To minimize health risks, the Sounders traveled via chartered flight to Portland on Sunday afternoon and left after the match. MLS still has strict safety protocols in place to guard against the spread of the virus including testing of all those involved in a game-day match.
Sunday’s match was the first of six in MLS’s phased return to conclude the 2020 season. Seattle plays at the Los Angeles Galaxy on Wednesday.
Clubs will play a total of 18 additional games in the league’s return to a regular season amid the pandemic. Only six were announced for the initial phase – those largely against regional opponents – to see if the protocols MLS and medical officials put in place are effective to guard against the virus.
An 18-team playoff will kick off in November with the 2020 MLS Cup slated for Dec. 12.
The Sounders boasted before the match about having their healthiest roster of the season and nearly two weeks to train with the first-choice lineup intact. Defender Xavier Arreaga did suffer a right quad strain in training last week, moving MLS veteran Shane O’Neill in at center back alongside new signee Yeimar Gomez Andrade.
An anticipated pairing was defensive midfielder Joao Paulo, a designated player signed in January who missed the MLS is Back tournament due to a right quad strain, with center midfielder Nico Lodeiro. There weren’t many moments to highlight between the duo but Ruidiaz’s performance proved to be enough anyway.
“Regardless of the result tonight … I wanted them to play well,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said via video conference call with media. “I just needed the team to believe that they could play well.”