In the absence of space, Raul Ruidiaz can still find a way to score.
The Sounders FC striker demonstrated that skill early in the second half of a match against the Galaxy on Saturday.
Keeper Jonathan Bond blocked an attempt by Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan and in a crowded box, Ruidiaz wiggled loose to get a toe on the rebound, tapping in what proved to be the game-winning goal in a 2-1 win at Dignity Health Sports Park in Los Angeles.
Ruidiaz’s score in the 49th minute tied him with Galaxy striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez for an MLS-leading seven goals this season. But for Chicharito, it’s the second match against the Sounders where he was shut out from scoring. Seattle defeated L.A. 3-0 at Lumen Field in May.
Saturday’s match was each side’s first since a three-week break for international competitions. The Sounders were rusty in some moments to open against the Galaxy, yet closed with again not conceding a goal through the run of play this season.
“We really need to cherish this,” Sounders midfielder Joao Paulo said, as translated from Portuguese. “I bet it is very difficult to find any team around the world that can reach a sequence like this (not conceding a goal during the run of play). It’s not only the work of the defense but also the entire group. We are succeeding in minimizing shots and minimizing opportunities for the opposition and that’s creating this sequence. A very positive sequence.”
L.A.’s score was off a Sacha Kljestan penalty kick in the 21st minute. Joao Paulo drew the foul when he brushed against Chicharito in the box. The latter stumbled and fell to the turf to emphasize the contact.
Joao Paulo was able to nullify the play with another textbook corner kick delivery in the 41st minute. Center back Yeimar Gomez Andrade simply broke through L.A.’s defensive setup to head butt the ball into goal. It was Joao Paulo’s fifth assist of the season.
The play almost didn’t happen as referee Drew Fischer initially called for a goal kick. Roldan contested the call, noting that Bond jumped and landed on his back.
Although quickly corrected, Fischer was criticized often by the players for what appeared to be inconsistent calls. After the foul on Chicharito led to a penalty kick, Roldan seemed to be similarly fouled in the penalty box and no call was made.
Seattle (6-0-3) pushed its club-best start to a nine-match unbeaten streak. Only FC Dallas has started a season as hot, opening its 2017 campaign without a loss in the opening nine games.
Saturday’s result was also L.A.’s first home loss. The Galaxy nearly pulled off a draw when midfielder Jorge Villafana sent a solid, left-footed shot toward the goal in the 85th minute. Sounders keeper Stefan Cleveland made the touch save to preserve the lead.
Seattle has lost only once to the Galaxy since 2016.
“There were some tremendous saves,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said of Cleveland, who was credited with only one. “His overall handling of pressure moments was very, very good. He’s a good, young goalkeeper with good reactions, good saves. But what I liked was his mentality to manage the game.”
The Galaxy (5-3-0) was forced to make an early substitution due to an injury to center back Daniel Steres. Coach Greg Vanney placed Nick Depuy in the role in the eighth minute.
Schmetzer made multiple changes to his starting lineup due to players away for international duty and injuries. New signee Abdoulaye Cissoko made his MLS debut at left center back in place of Nouhou, who missed the match because of an adductor strain.
Veteran defender Shane O’Neill slotted in at central center back in place of Xavier Arreaga, who is with his Ecuador national team. Up top, Schmetzer kept the change of forward Fredy Montero playing alongside Ruidiaz. The crafty scorers first played alongside each other for the home match against Austin FC in May that finished in a goalless draw.
The Sounders return to host Real Salt Lake on Wednesday at Lumen Field.
“The fact that Raul scored the winning goal puts a smile on my face,” Schmetzer said. Ruidiaz was available for selection only because he was snubbed by his Peru national team to be part of the roster for the Copa America tournament. “We played well as a team.”