TUKWILA — Raul Ruidiaz has had spotty participation in training since the Sounders returned from Morocco, but coach Brian Schmetzer expects his star striker to be available to play Saturday.
Ruidiaz played 90 minutes in Seattle's maiden FIFA men's Club World Cup match Feb. 4 in Tangier, Morocco. The Peruvian international recorded two shots at goal in the 1-0 loss to Egyptian titan Al Ahly.
Upon return stateside, Ruidiaz was diagnosed with a right hamstring strain and missed the Sounders' final scrimmage (Feb. 18) and MLS-opener against Colorado on Sunday.
"He'll be available for the game on the weekend," Schmetzer said following Wednesday's session at Starfire Sports in Tukwila. Seattle (1-0) hosts Real Salt Lake (1-0) at Lumen Field.
Ruidiaz was part of drills with the team but when the group moved to work on a shorter field, Ruidiaz stayed on the sideline with trainers. He worked on finishing in front of goal with reserve keepers Andrew Thomas and Jacob Castro taking turns manning the net.
"That's part of the plan," Schmetzer said of Ruidiaz gradually rejoining the team. "[Raul] has been working hard with the trainer and the fitness guys so there will be some buildup, but he hasn't lost much fitness in two weeks."
Sounders forward Heber, who was acquired in December via monetary exchange with New York City FC, received the start in place of Ruidiaz in the scrimmage and against Colorado and scored in both matches. The goal against the Rapids was Heber pouncing on a poor clearance inches outside the keeper's box to put the Sounders up 3-0 in the 53rd minute.
"Heber does all the simple things really well," said Sounders forward Jordan Morris, who had a brace in the 4-0 win. "He's a selfless player, he works for the team. And then you see his finishing ability inside the box. He just needs one chance and he'll bury it."
Ruidiaz, who's one of the club's three designated players, has struggled staying in the rotation since 2021 when his hamstring injury prevented him from closing out the season and limited him to 60 minutes to the Sounders' playoff loss to RSL. Ruidiaz still tied a club single-season record with 17 MLS goals.
Last year, Ruidiaz started 14 of his 18 league games due to ankle and hamstring injuries. But he scored a brace in the decisive CONCACAF Champions League final against Pumas UNAM.
Schmetzer also expects to have midfielder Obed Vargas available for selection Saturday. Vargas suffered a quad injury while training in Spain and hasn't trained with the team.
Vargas was returning from a season-ending lower back injury suffered in June 2022. Before that injury, the 17-year-old was making waves for how he skillfully replaced veteran Joao Paulo in the starting lineup when the latter suffered an ACL injury.
Schmetzer didn't indicate how Ruidiaz or Vargas would be utilized Saturday. He was vague about Ruidiaz last week and opted to be cautious instead of allowing Ruidiaz's push to play sway the long-term plans.
"We'll see," Schmetzer said.
___ (c)2023 The Seattle Times Visit The Seattle Times at www.seattletimes.com Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Discuss the news on NABUR, a place to have local conversations The Neighborhood Alliance for Better Understanding and Respect ✔ A site just for our local community ✔ Focused on facts, not misinformation ✔ Free for everyone