Seattle Sounders: Diamonds in the Rough: Kim Kee-hee and Raúl Ruidíaz

The Seattle Sounders know how to pick their players.
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Seattle is known of some of the best Homegrown players in Major League Soccer. However, Seattle has made a splash with signing international players over the past few seasons. The club brought in Clint Dempsey in 2014, bringing “home” one of U.S. Soccer’s finest strikers. Then Román Torres in 2015, who was the hero for Panama during World Cup qualifying in 2017.

While Seattle might not have gone out to get a Wayne Rooney or Zlatan Ibrahimovic, they did find two diamonds in the rough in 2018.

Kim Kee-hee joined the team in February ahead of this MLS campaign. The South Korean defender was integral in the nation’s World Cup qualifying but did not make the final roster in June. However, South Korea’s loss was Seattle’s gain, as Kim performed admirably and retained his starting spot throughout the summer.

Even when Torres came back from Russia, Kim remained in the starting centerback role. He played alongside Chad Marshall, who had one of his best years in MLS. Despite not knowing the English language fluently, Kim was able to effectively communicate with his fellow teammates.

Kim also had no problem getting in on the offensive, either. During Seattle’s second tilt of the season against the Portland Timbers, Kim found his way up the pitch. In a matter of seconds, he sent a perfectly-curved ball into the box. Despite having a teammate in the box — we’ll talk about him soon — Kim’s ball found Julio Cascante for an own goal. However, the goal was perfectly set up by Kim.

Head coach Brian Schmetzer continued to call the goal, “Kim’s goal.” As Torres and Marshall reach the end of their career, Kee-hee is the CB Seattle can build around for the next few seasons.

Ruidiaz provides a spark to lift Seattle

While Kim joined the team at the beginning of the year, the summer transfer window turned the Sounders season around.

Raúl Ruidíaz, who had just completed the FIFA World Cup with Peru, joined Seattle in July. His debut came against the Vancouver Whitecaps on July 21, but his first goal came a week later against the San Jose Earthquakes. Ruidíaz end his debut half-season by scoring 10 goals in 13 starts — 14 appearances — for the Sounders. He led the team in scoring, joining the team for the start of an 11-match unbeaten streak and nine-game winning streak.

In the post-season, Ruidíaz found the net three times, with two goals in the second leg against Portland.

His explosive style on offense has paired up well with Nicolás Lodeiro. The two have found a connection up front. Now, with Ruidíaz, Seattle isn’t afraid to play with a lone-striker formation, with three attacking players behind to supplement him.

Just like Kim, Ruidíaz suffered from the language barrier. However, it wasn’t as difficult as Kim’s. With Kim, there are no other South Koreans on the team, so he has to rely on a translator. Meanwhile, for Ruidíaz, who speaks Spanish, there are many Spanish-speaking players. Ruidíaz can use Cristian Roldan, Ozzie Alonso, Torres, Víctor Rodríguez, Lodeiro, Waylon Francis, and Tony Alfaro as personal translators.

Which signing was more important?

The biggest problem for Seattle this season was scoring goals.

Early in the season, Seattle started off on the bumpy road. The team even fought with San Jose, trying to climb out of last place. However, after a nine-game winning streak, and a few more victories sprinkled along the way, Seattle found themselves in a tenth-straight post-season.

Kim’s addition to the defense was huge. With Torres gone for the World Cup, Seattle needed somebody to help fill the role. However, with how well Kim performed in 2018, it’s unlikely that Torres will be the starter moving forward. He’ll either remain as a backup, or Seattle will have to trade him. But, even in the backup role, Torres has been valuable. During the playoffs, he was seen on the sidelines shouting instructions to not just Kim and Marshall, but the offensive players as well.

As for Ruidíaz, his inclusion was much-needed.

Seattle needed a goal-scorer. Even though Ruidíaz doesn’t have the biggest name in soccer he got the job done. In total, 13 goals in 16 matches are impressive. Without a doubt, Seattle wouldn’t have had that nine-game winning streak if it wasn’t for Ruidíaz. With Clint Dempsey retiring due to health complications, Seattle needed an aggressive attacker.

Ruidíaz might be small, but he’s not afraid to get physical.

In the end, neither signing was more important than the other. Both players have vast skill sets, but completely different from each other. Kim isn’t afraid to get up top and is performing well, despite mainly using hand signals to get his message across. Meanwhile, Ruidíaz was a goal-scoring machine.

Should both of them perform like they did last year for the new season, there’s no doubt that Seattle can make an eleventh-straight post-season, and be a contender for the 2019 Cup. Two key signings that were needed as the era of Dempsey, Alonso, and Marshall begins to fade out. Proof that the Sounders front office is focused on quality over branding.

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