SEATTLE — It was not the best performance, but it was an influential one.
As a result, Raul Ruidiaz has made history.
Ruidiaz became the first Peruvian to win an MLS Cup on Sunday after helping his Seattle Sounders defeat Toronto FC by a 3-1 mark. Ruidiaz was quiet for much of the title match at CenturyLink Field and even missed a quality look late in the first half. Still, he impacted the game in a big way, recording a goal and an assist to help the Sounders surge after the break.
For Ruidiaz, the victory gave him the second foreign league title of his career and fourth overall. It also entered him into the history books.
“I didn’t know that I was the first Peruvian to win an MLS Cup, but that fills me with even more joy,” said a champagne-soaked Ruidiaz in Spanish after the match. “It means I’m doing things in a very good way and I want to keep going in the same manner, pushing myself and exerting myself.
“I’m very, very, very happy. Honestly, I always thought and dreamt about this moment. Thankfully, today it became a reality and now it’s about enjoying the moment.”
Ruidiaz will not get to enjoy the moment for too long. He will not be staying with the Sounders for the upcoming championship parade this week, as his obligations with Peru’s national team are forcing him to immediately travel to Miami via an overnight flight on Sunday night.
Nonetheless, his performance will not be soon forgotten. After a fairly even and scoreless first half, Ruidiaz helped the Sounders find the breakthrough when he hit Kelvin Leerdam with a floated pass in the 57th minute. The ensuing shot benefited greatly because of a deflection, but it was just what the Sounders needed to seize momentum.
With some newfound confidence, the Western Conference club had more success getting forward and substitute midfielder Victor Rodriguez bagged the second goal 19 minutes after the first. Then, in the 90th it was Ruidiaz’s turn to find the back of the net, his hustle and effort allowing him to beat Toronto FC defender Chris Mavinga to an aimless long ball before clipping a shot over goalkeeper Quentin Westberg.
“You don’t talk about him and then all of a sudden he gets an assist, he gets a goal and he’s one of the guys that should’ve deserved Man of the Match,” said Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan. “He’s a guy that has influenced the team in a lot of different ways. His competitive nature and that relentless he has, he deserves this win more than anybody.”
Ruidiaz may not have had a lot of touches on Sunday, but part of that was due to the game plan Toronto FC devised for him. The centerback duo of Mavinga and Omar Gonzalez marked the diminutive striker tightly and aggressively, rarely allowing him much space to get on the ball.
“He’s playing two dudes who are 6-foot-2 and he’s giving away probably 50 pounds to each one of them,” said Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey. “Not only does he not back down, he was an absolute menace. He’s dragging them out of shape, out of position.”
Despite the physical disadvantage, the Sounders star still managed to get some looks on goal. On his fifth and final chance he finished with aplomb, sealing the deal and sending most of the 69,274 fans at CenturyLink Field into a frenzy.
“I deserved to score,” said Ruidiaz, who celebrated by taking his shirt off and running around part of the field with a wide grin. “I deserved to give this joy to all of the city and all of the fans. It’s an incredible feeling of happiness.”
For Ruidiaz, Sunday’s championship underlines what has been a remarkable first year-and-a-half with the Sounders. The veteran striker has been one of the most productive and lethal players since arriving in June 2018, scoring goals in bunches and helping the club win a lot of games.
Now, he can say he helped the club win a title. Just as the Sounders and their fans had hoped. Just as he he had hoped.
“It’s something that is indescribable,” said Ruidiaz of being a champion. “There’s so much emotion. It’s the greatest thing that can happen in a player’s career.”