Raul Ruidiaz stood idle in Lumen Field’s north penalty box.
Rarely has the space baffled the Sounders FC forward. Wednesday was one of those times.
Good thing teams switch sides at halftime. What the Sounders couldn’t finish to open their match against Real Salt Lake, the home side found after the break to collect a 2-1 win.
Ruidiaz benefited from a handball penalty called on RSL defender Anderson Julio in the 88th minute. As RSL players debated with referee Ted Unkel, Ruidiaz took the ball and set it at the penalty spot and prepared for the shot. Once RSL keeper David Ochoa got into position to defend, Ruidiaz sent a slow floater toward goal, Ochoa already on the ground before the attempt crossed the goal line.
“The last time somebody did a penalty like that in a clutch moment was my good friend Gonzalo Pineda,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said in comparing Ruidiaz to the former Sounder and current assistant coach. “You saw all of the shenanigans to try to delay the penalty kick. To put Raul on ice. And then he comes up with that. …That was a big-time play, in a big-time moment by a big-time player.”
The score marked Ruidiaz’s eighth of the season and 50th across all competitions for the Sounders. He remains tied with Los Angeles Galaxy forward Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez for the MLS Golden Boot lead.
A sliding tackle by Sounders midfielder Jimmy Medranda created the opportunity for the club’s opening goal. Teammate Cristian Roldan took a through ball from midfielder Joao Paulo to help build the scoring play. Roldan sent a pass to Ruidiaz, who sent a cross back to Roldan in the box, who did a half turn to tap an assist to forward Will Bruin. Ochoa deflected Bruin’s attempt, but Roldan caught the rebound to drive in a left-footed score in the 58th minute.
The relief was apparent on Roldan and Ruidiaz’s faces as they screamed at each other in celebration. Ruidiaz seemingly did everything to create perfect opportunities to score against RSL, including luring Ochoa out of goal in the 39th minute, but nothing connected.
It was RSL defender Andrew Brody who snuffed out Ruidiaz’s attempt at an open goal, leaving Ruidiaz just standing with a dismayed look in the penalty box after the play was botched.
“To be able to finally score at home after quite some time was emotional,” said Roldan, whose team hasn’t scored multiple goals in a home match since May 16. “We felt like we were on the doorstep and couldn’t pull through. You see that emotion, you see how much it means to people within our team. This is a long, long season and to be able to be in this form is something we have to really, really take advantage of.”
Sounders keeper Stefan Cleveland committed a foul in the 78th minute that set up a penalty kick for the visitors. Forward Albert Rusnak slotted home a right-footed score.
Seattle still hasn’t conceded a goal through the run of play, which is an MLS record since the stat became officially tracked in 2010. The scores conceded were on penalty kicks (three) and free kicks (two).
“We’re compact,” said Sounders midfielder Kelyn Rowe of what continues to work defensively for the team. “It’s very hard to break us down with that five in the back (midfielders), especially. Our wingbacks are also doing a lot of work for us. Today it was Jimmy and Alex (Roldan) on other days it’s Brad (Smith) as well. Those guys are doing so much work cutting balls off and cutting crosses out. Then you have our three center backs.”
Although it didn’t produced any goals, the Sounders were full of vigor in their attack to open the match. Roldan broke away from RSL’s defense for a possible attempt in the box in the 7th minute that he couldn’t control and another in the 9th minute that didn’t connect.
Medranda got a good touch for a counterattack run with Ruidiaz in the 15th minute. The latter sent a powerful shot from long distance at goal but it was off the mark. Another Ruidiaz attempt in the box, center of goal off a Roldan service, floated over goal.
Bruin, Rowe and Abdoulaye Cissoko also had attempts that missed. Overall in the opening half the Sounders outshot RSL 9-3 and had 62.6% possession of the ball.
The performance was a stark difference from the club’s past two home matches that resulted in draws against Atlanta United and Austin FC.
“On a cleaner day, we can go up 2-0 at half,” Roldan said. “That’s frustrating because we could put teams away a little bit earlier instead of going through the hassle of being 1-0 up, conceding a PK and then fighting to get a second goal. We can be cleaner in that aspect and hopefully we’ll be a lot more clinical in front of goal (in the next match).”
Schmetzer made two changes to his starting lineup for the midweek match. Medranda started in place of Smith in the left wingback position. Bruin started up top in place of Fredy Montero. The move is a return to how the club started the season, with the two-forward formation.
The Sounders (7-0-3) pushed their franchise-record unbeaten streak to 10 games, which matches Real Salt Lake’s start in 2014. The Galaxy own the MLS record in 1996 with a 12-0 start.
Seattle hosts the Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Saturday at Lumen Field.
“We’re getting a lot of good performances from a lot of different people,” Schmetzer said. “The collective is always going to be stronger than the individual.”