Raul Ruidiaz had a goal and an assist in his first game back after testing positive for coronavirus while on international duty, and the Seattle Sounders clinched a spot in the playoffs with a 2-0 victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps on Tuesday night.
The defending MLS Cup champion Sounders (10-4-5) secured their 12th straight trip to the post-season. The win also pushed Seattle to the top of the Western Conference standings.
“Even in the USL days and NASL days this club has always been a winning club. It’s something that is within the DNA, the culture of our club,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said.
Vancouver (8-13-0) went into the match with three wins in its last four games, but has just two games left to try and make the playoffs.
Ruidiaz returned to the starting lineup for the Sounders after contracting COVID-19 while playing with Peru’s national team.
Ruidiaz, who leads Seattle with 10 goals, last played for the Sounders on Oct. 4, when he scored in a 3-1 victory over the Whitecaps. The Sounders have won both previous regular-season matchups against Vancouver this season.
“Seeing him play tonight, it’s seemed that he didn’t even have coronavirus,” said Nicolas Lodeiro, who also scored. “He came with energy, he came scoring goals, and it’s great to have him back.”
The Whitecaps made seven changes to their starting lineup from the last outing, a 2-1 victory over the San Jose at Portland’s Providence Park on Sunday. Vancouver is playing its home matches in Portland because of travel restrictions in Canada.
Whitecaps coach Marc Dos Santos also went to a 3-4-3 and took a defensive stance against Seattle from the start. The teams were scoreless at the half.
“I think our defensive organization was spot on. We were able to frustrate them. Not giving them space, bring the game to where I wanted the game to go,” Dos Santos said.
Initially ruled offside, Ruidiaz’s goal in the 54th minute was awarded after video review. Lodeiro scored some six minutes later to double Seattle’s lead. Ruidiaz, sporting silver hair, got the assist before Lodeiro’s tap in for his sixth goal of the season.
“He’s happy to be back,” Schmetzer said about Ruidiaz. “You know, sometimes when you have some adversity in your life, soccer is a good outlet.”
The Sounders were coming off a 1-1 draw with the Timbers in Seattle last Thursday.
“I think Seattle deserved the win,” Dos Santos said. “We knew it would be hard for us tonight, based on all the circumstances. But I think there’s positive things because of playing so many young guys against an opponent that on the field is the MLS Cup winning team.”
The game did not count toward the Cascadia Cup, the honour given to the winner of the three-way Pacific Northwest rivalry between the Whitecaps, Sounders and Portland Timbers. The supporters' groups for all three teams decided not to award the cup this season.