ROUNDBALL DAILY

Seattle’s Raul Ruidiaz is the most dangerous man in Major League Soccer

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You do not want to see the ball heading anywhere near Raul Ruidiaz in the last minutes of a close game.

It’s happened so many times now, it’s almost like there’s a script.

Time is winding down (or up) in a sport where scoring is about as easy as making it to a second date.

The ball is bouncing and zipping all over the place as frantic defenders chase its pinball-like path, playing against the clock as much as the opposition. The Seattle Sounders need a hero– but they’re not panicking, because they already know who that man is.

There may be a couple of chances gone by. A missed corner, a header too wide, a ball that nicks the post. You might think there’s hope for the visitors to escape Seattle with a rare win.

But then, some way– any way– the ball finds its way to Raul Ruidiaz, and the 30-year-old Peruvian dutifully fires it into the back of the net.

He’s running around, screaming like a miniature version of The Hulk, and the refuse-to-lose Sounders have done it yet again.

At this point, there’s no denying it. Ruidiaz is the most dangerous man in North American soccer.

If you’ve got a lead on the Sounders in the late stages of a game– especially if that game is in the Western Conference Playoffs– all you’re thinking about is where Ruidiaz is.

Your eyes are tracking him just as much as the ball, hoping he’s out of position, or that the ball somehow won’t come to him. But then it does, and there he is, with the game on his cleats, and you’re hoping he might finally miss this time, but he doesn’t– because he’s Raul Ruidiaz, and you’ve blinked and the ball is in the back of the net, and the Sounders are going back to the MLS Cup Final.

Defending Ruidiaz in the playoffs is like pitching to David Ortiz in October or trying to stop Tom Brady with two minutes left and less than 100 yards to go.

95 percent of the time, he scores every time, and the Sounders, who clinched their fourth appearance in the MLS Cup Finals in the last five years on Monday night, are the beneficiary.

Seattle trailed Minnesota United, 2-0 in the 75th minute of the winner-take-all Western Conference Final on Monday night, but after a goal from Will Bruin brought them back to 2-1, an 89th minute goal by Ruidiaz tied things up.

The Sounders won on a Gustav Svensson goal in the 93rd minute, just seconds before the three whistles ended the game.

In 64 appearances since he joined the Sounders in 2018, Ruidiaz has netted 41 goals. He hasn’t been in serious contention for MLS MVP (that honor has gone to Atlanta and now Newcastle United forward Miguel Almiron, LAFC’s Carlos Vela and Toronto’s Alejandro Pozuelo), but no one in the league has had a greater impact, particularly in the playoffs, in the last three years.

If the 30-year-old Ruidiaz was a few inches taller than 5-7, you’d have to think he’d be balling in Europe at this point. Still, his remarkable career has been decorated with more hair-raising moments than many players who’ve suited up at Champions League clubs.

It’s happened so often now, it’s become an inevitability even to fans who only drop in on Major League Soccer every so often.

If there’s an MLS Playoff game in the balance in Seattle, and there’s a goal to be had, Raul Ruidiaz will score it.

Seattle will face the Columbus Crew for the MLS Cup title on Saturday night.

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