SEATTLE — When Raul Ruidiaz joined the Seattle Sounders in late June, they weren’t even close to making the MLS playoffs — not even the knockout round.
Now, not only are they in the playoffs, but thanks to Ruidiaz, they’ve avoided the knockout round.
Ruidiaz scored two second-half goals and the Sounders rallied to beat the San Jose Earthquakes 2-1 Sunday in the regular-season finale to grab second place in the Western Conference.
The Sounders (18-11-5) vaulted past Los Angeles FC and FC Dallas, both losers on MLS Decision Day.
“Coming back here to the locker room, it was all crazy to savor — it was very, very good,” Ruidiaz said. “We were able to achieve that, and I’m super happy for that.”
On June 29, when Peruvian national team and Liga Mx star Ruidiaz signed with the Sounders, they were 3-8-3 and tied for 10th in the MLS West.
From there, they went 15-3-2 in their final 20 games, with Ruidiaz scoring 10 goals.
“When I came, the team was in a bad moment, but we all knew it was up to us to reverse the situation we were in,” Ruidiaz said. “We have an excellent team — really a family.”
After the Earthquakes (4-21-9) went in front on an own-goal in the 64th minute, Ruidiaz tied the game in the 79th minute when he ran onto a crossing pass from Cristian Roldan and tapped it in from 2 yards straight in front.
Ruidiaz then scored from the top of the box on a pass from Nico Lodeiro in the second minute of stoppage time to put the Sounders ahead.
“Cristian sent the ball over, and it came a little low, but I was able to put it in,” Ruidiaz said. “On the second one, I was able to read Nico’s pass, which I’m always looking for because he’s always trying several things.”
While all of that was going on in front of him, Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer also was aware of what was going on around the rest of the league — specifically that Colorado had come from behind to beat Dallas, 2-1, and that Sporting Kansas City had scored the go-ahead goal to beat Los Angeles FC, 2-1.
“That was intense. We were aware of what was happening, but how do you (communicate) that to the players?,” Schmetzer said. “Whoever thought of this Decision Day, it’s great. It’s great for the fans, and it gives us a little bit of a faster heartbeat, but that’s what we want to do.”
A tie would have been good enough to avoid the knockout round, but Schmetzer said it wouldn’t have been good enough for him or his players.
“They obviously didn’t want to lose, but they didn’t want to draw in the last game of the year in front of the fans they wanted to impress,” he said. “They wanted to end the season on a positive for their never-say-die mentality. That’s why this team is capable of a championship.”
San Jose opened the scoring when a shallow shot by Danny Hoesen from the right side of the box nicked off Sounders defender Chad Marshall and into the back left corner of the net.
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