Sounders FC forward Raul Ruidiaz was named this week to the pool of 50 players his native Peru is considering to call up for national team duty.
The final roster will be narrowed down to 23 and will compete in the 2021 CONMEBOL Copa America in Argentina and Colombia from June 13 through July 10.
Peru is in Group B with Colombia, Brazil, Venezuela, and Ecuador. Qatar and Australia pulled out of the tournament in February due to scheduling conflicts.
Ruidiaz, who’ll have to quarantine when he returns to the U.S., could miss six Sounders matches if Peru were to advance to the championship match. The federation played for the title in 2019, losing to Brazil 3-1. Ruidiaz was subbed into the match in the 78th minute.
The South American tournament was canceled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A packed 2021 international schedule and omission of some teams prompted officials to alter the 47th edition.
The 10 teams were split into two five-team groups. Each are expected to play four games. The top four finishers from each group will advance to the quarterfinals of the knockout rounds.
Peru is also vying for a World Cup berth. The national team is scheduled to play matches June 3 and June 8.
Those matches fall within the FIFA international break and don’t conflict with the Sounders’ schedule but if Ruidiaz were selected, he might need to join the team a week before competition, possibly missing Seattle’s May 29 home match against Austin FC.
Ruidiaz trained at his national team’s facility in March while waiting for his U.S. green card paperwork to clear. He represented Peru in a World Cup qualifying match against Paraguay in October 2020.
The striker played 74 minutes in the 2-2 draw and later tested positive for COVID-19. He was asymptomatic and self-isolated in Lima until he tested negative. Upon return to the Sounders, Ruidiaz immediately rejoined the starting lineup and helped the club advance to MLS Cup.
Sounders defender Xavier Arreaga could also be called up to play for his Ecuador national team and face Ruidiaz. The federation hasn’t announced its provisional roster.
The potential absences are why Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer was critical of media and fans questioning his starting rotation to open the MLS season. Arreaga and Shane O’Neill have started at center back despite Yeimar Gomez Andrade returning from a 2020 season where he was viewed as one of the league’s better defenders.
Arreaga didn’t have a good performance in the 1-1 draw against LAFC last week. His early foul led to the Black and Gold’s goal in the 2nd minute. The Ecuadorian was shown a yellow card in the second half.
“How I use players, how I rotate players — who starts, who doesn’t — it’s a long season,” Schmetzer said during a video conference call with media after the season-opener April 16. “People that get excited about the first game of the year and lineup choices are not that well educated. We’re going to need every single player to contribute during the course of the year. … We’re going to be in the thick of it when internationals leave and we’re going to need everyone.”
Two for Two
Ruidiaz was named to Week 1 of MLS’s Best XI team after scoring a brace in the Sounders’ blowout win against Minnesota United FC. Sounders fullback Brad Smith received the nod for Week 2.
Smith scored his first MLS goal in the 54th minute of the draw against LAFC at Banc of California Stadium on Saturday. The Australian was alert in the box to head a rebound of a Ruidiaz attempt into the net.
It’s evident after two matches that the Sounders’ switch to a two-forward lineup highlights the talent currently on the roster. And that’s without captain Nico Lodeiro, who missed the first two games due to a strained left quad.
Smith, Nouhou and former Sounders midfielder Joevin Jones were a logjam of talent at left fullback the past two seasons. Jones signed with Inter Miami CF while Smith was moved up to the midfield in the new formation, Nouhou securing the left defensive role.
“From the position where I used to play as a left back, I’m generally trying to find the strikers on crosses,” Smith told media during a video conference call after the LAFC draw. “This position kind of gives me more freedom to go forward, and Nouhou is my security guard in the back, so I can have the freedom to kind of get forward and put myself in positions that I wasn’t able to do as a left back. (Against LAFC) I was lucky and hopefully I can add many more to that.”