TUKWILA — The Sounders no longer need a gauge. The club has won four of their past five MLS matches and moved above the playoff line in the Western Conference. They’re clicking as they did during the CONCACAF Champions League run.
But they could use another MLS statement win, making Saturday’s matchup against Los Angeles FC a timely visit to Lumen Field. While the Sounders were away winning an international trophy, LAFC (9-3-2) was tearing through the league to lead the Supporters’ Shield table with 29 points.
So far, the Sounders (6-6-1, 19 points) only have one win (LA Galaxy) against a top-10 team in the overall MLS standings. Seattle had early losses to Dallas, Salt Lake City and Nashville and a draw against Austin.
“Anytime you play a top Western Conference team that you’re trying to catch up (to), it means more,” said Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan of the game that will broadcast nationally on ABC. “The game means more and the points mean more … We understand where we’re at. The whole Champions League, slow start, switching lineups due to rest purposes — we understand how our team looks as a team. We’re just looking forward to getting into another test, another big game. Our players always seen to show up for big moments.”
Fueling the Sounders’ turnaround in league play was striker Raul Ruidiaz. The Peruvian international has scored a goal in four of his past five MLS matches, including a brace in the blowout against Vancouver on Tuesday.
But in attempting to bag a hat trick in the 4-0 win, Ruidiaz suffered a hamstring injury and was subbed off in the 64th minute. He had an MRI this week that showed a slight pull, according to Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer.
Ruidiaz, who was hampered by a hamstring injury last year and didn’t start the opening round playoff loss against RSL, will miss Seattle’s upcoming two home matches. His probability beyond that depends on treatment and how the Sounders perform without Ruidiaz.
“The team’s playing well, we don’t want to rush him back,” Schmetzer said.
The Sounders are using the same precaution for center back Yeimar Gomez Andrade, who suffered a hamstring injury during training earlier this month. Schmetzer thought Yeimar could possibly sub on Saturday, but the Colombian didn’t participate in full training Friday.
Sounders original Fredy Montero will likely replace Ruidiaz up top against LAFC or Schmetzer could call on forward Will Bruin. A positive in the constantly changing lineup is Roldan (U.S.), winger Jordan Morris, midfielder Albert Rusnak (Slovakia) and defender Nouhou (Cameroon) are back from national team duty and are available for selection.
“His goal-scoring ability is second to none and he does a lot more than that for the team as well,” Morris said of Ruidiaz. “We’re really lucky here to have such great people that can come in and fill in — next man up mentality.”
LAFC hasn’t played a match since May 28 due to the FIFA international break, beating San Jose 3-2 at Banc of California Stadium. Black & Gold coach Steve Cherundolo, who was hired in January, spent the time working on the team’s defense after giving the players a week’s rest.
The club bulked up their backline with the signing of Italian international Giorgio Chiellini this week. The center back helped Juventus win nine consecutive Serie A championships and captained Italy’s 2020 European championship team.
Chiellini he won’t arrive until July and LAFC forward Ismael Tajouri-Shradi is questionable for selection due to a quad injury. Like the Sounders, the Black & Gold showed depth their opening 14 under Cherundolo.
LAFC has received goal production from 13 different players, striker Carlos Vela leading with six this season. Midfielder Ilie Sanchez, who was signed in January after playing the past five seasons for Sporting Kansas City, is also a difference-maker.
The defense is leaky, matching Seattle in conceding 16 goals.
“They have a similar style from when Bob Bradley had them,” Schmetzer said of LAFC’s former coach. “Carlos Vela, when he’s healthy and available, he kind of dictates the style of their team a little bit. But Ilie Sanchez has come and done a really nice job and they’ve upgraded the goalkeeping situation. They have a really good team. … it’s going to be a hard game, for sure.”
Seattle has enjoyed the challenges LAFC has served them in the past. Since the Black & Gold joined MLS in 2018, the Sounders have knocked the newcomers out of the postseason twice.
LAFC has the overall advantage with a 5-3-2 all-time record. They’ve also outscored Seattle 15-12.
“They’ve turned into a good rival,” Schmetzer said. “It’s a midseason game, but there’s going to be some intensity to it.”