Raúl Ruidíaz’s rubric is not complicated. There are no carve-outs for individual awards, for near-misses, for deep runs in competitions. For the Seattle Sounders FC forward, if he ends the year with a trophy, it’s a success. If not, he takes it hard.

It might seem reductive, but that’s how he’s thought since winning a title with Universitario in Peru during his first season as a professional. It’s great he is now the all-time leading scorer for the Sounders. He’s happy to have individual recognition. But the point? The point is winning titles; a soccer player only gets so many chances.

“For me, a year in which you don’t win anything is a year lost. In a player’s career, it’s one less year. I don’t like to lose a year. It’s impossible. It’s a year of life for me. I don’t like it,” Ruidíaz told MLSsoccer.com this week. “I try to focus and help, put in my top effort, train at the max and try to get titles.

“That’s where my head is always at. I can’t be losing a year.”

Raul Ruidiaz 3

Silverware chase

There was some noise that 2024 was headed toward being another wasted year for Ruidíaz and the Sounders after they started winless in their first five matches. After a win and a draw, though, with four goals from Ruidíaz helping the cause, the Sounders enter Saturday's Cascadia Cup clash with Vancouver Whitecaps FC in striking distance for the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs places with months to go until it’s safe to count any team out (10:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass).

Ruidíaz is confident the team is focused on a goal that, for him, is “extremely clear”: Add more silverware to the cabinet – something he’s already done with MLS Cup 2019 and the 2022 Concacaf Champions League.

“I know that with my attitude, my experience, my game, I’m going to help the Sounders win something or at least guide us on that path,” he said.

He also knows there’s a reason the feeling he gets after a barren season is more painful than previous stops in his career, whether in his native Peru, in Chile, or with Morelia in Mexico. As the years pass, Ruidíaz, who turns 34 in July, knows his window is narrowing.

“Right now, thinking about the long-term makes me a bit melancholy,” Ruidíaz said. “My dream right now is to be able to retire at 38, so we’re saying that I have four more years. But I’m not thinking about what’s going to happen next year. I’m thinking about the present and what I have guaranteed, which is this year with the Sounders.”

Ruidiaz 6

Final call?

Ruidíaz was hardly an unknown in Peru as a much younger man. There were nicknames and labels placed on him that would be tough for any player to live up to. “Little Messi” got thrown around, and he frequently found himself on lists of top prospects from South America well before highlight videos of teenagers were de rigueur on social media.

He debuted at age 19, thanks to manager Juan Reynoso, the first in a line of top managers with whom he's worked. (That list also includes Jorge Sampaoli, Roberto Hérnandez and the Sounders' Brian Schmetzer.) Typically, Ruidíaz recalls, a player would give interviews the day after a debut, but the then-teenager opted against speaking to the press.

“They started killing me the next day, and from then on I took the posture where I said, 'I’m not going to pay attention to that. I’m going to remove myself from that because it doesn't interest me. I don’t think it’s important,’” Ruidíaz explained.

It’s the same tact he’s taking now, saying he hasn’t really heard media critics saying he’s too old or too unreliable after scoring just five goals last season, the second in a row that saw him capped at 18 matches played amid injuries. Discourse even ensued last winter that his Designated Player contract, which lasts through 2024, was a weight on Seattle's roster.

“Now, it’s another year. I’m so focused, and I keep thinking that it’s my last year here, but I’m going to enjoy it in a different way. We’ve got a new training center, which honestly motivates you in a different way,” he said.

“I’m so focused, putting in a huge effort and I know this year I’m going to close out incredibly. I really believe in that. At the end of the year, we’ll see.”

Ruidiaz 5

Doing your research

Ruidíaz didn’t join Seattle expecting to become a club legend or their all-time top scorer (82 goals and counting). But when the possibility of moving from Morelia in Liga MX to Seattle came up in 2018, he started doing his research. The Peru international looked into the club’s history, their style of play and, of course, how likely it was that he’d add more trophies. When he arrived on Puget Sound, he was delighted to find the reality matched the reputation.

It was the same thing he’d done when moving from Universitario to Morelia two years earlier after a messy transfer saga. Monarcas administrator Lenin Pérez, lawyer Enrique Colin and other directors arrived in Lima only to find fans suggesting they were stealing Ruidíaz from the club by activating what they believed was a straightforward release clause in his contract.

While club directors were wrangling and hammering out documents, Ruidíaz was doing his homework on Morelia, recalled Eugenio Villazón, who at the time worked on the staff of legendary Liga MX manager Enrique Meza at Monarcas.

Villazón, now an Atlanta United assistant coach, recalled a conversation Meza had with the player during the 2016 Copa América Centenario, when Ruidíaz scored in Peru’s final group game to send Brazil out of the competition early and put Peru into the quarterfinals, where they fell to Colombia on a penalty shootout.

“Raúl said, ‘Profe, everything you’re asking me, I’ve already analyzed in your team,” Villazón said. “I want to play with you because your team plays [good soccer], it doesn’t resort to long balls, since I’m not that tall.' It was a beautiful conversation because Raúl investigated how we play.”

Raul Ruidiaz 7

While he’s been in Seattle far longer than Mexico, Ruidíaz is similarly a club legend at Morelia just as he is in Rave Green. He won a Liga MX scoring title during his first season, and in the next scored a famous 91st-minute goal at the Estadio BBVA to save the club from relegation – clinching a second top scorer crown to boot.

Those individual efforts would be the only trophies for Ruidíaz before he left for Seattle, but he was never focused on running up his goal tally.

“Raúl really values his teammates,” Villazón said. “He’s really good at creating connections and realizes how important it is that everyone believes in each other, and in the locker room he creates this atmosphere of joy and confidence.

“But he’s also very demanding. He shows up early and looks for everybody else to do the same, to get in the gym, that they’re not just good on the ball but physically powerful.”

Ruidíaz’s Seattle teammates have enjoyed working with him. Comfortable leading the line in several different formations, and even sliding out to the wing a bit at the start of this season, Ruidíaz tries to make those around him better in that constant quest for wins.

“He has a nose for goal,” Sounders teammate Jordan Morris said after Ruidíaz scored twice in a 5-0 win against CF Montreal earlier this month. “He’s a really special player in the box and in front of goal, so we’re fortunate to have him. He’s had a great start to the year."

Raul Ruidiaz 4

Guiding light

That may be down to his preparation for the 2024 campaign. Just as Ruidíaz studies the game, Villazón said, he studies himself, looking for ways to improve. The coach compared it to how even the best musicians practice their instrument to continue to get better.

It’s why Ruidíaz has enjoyed his time so much with Seattle, why he wants to continue to turn this season around and chase one more title, one more successful year, one more trophy. Becoming a professional soccer player is one thing. Leaving a legacy, and doing it at a big club, is another.

“It’s really easy to debut, I think. The tough thing is to stay there, or once you’re there to go abroad. Once you go abroad, it’s tough to stick there too,” Ruidíaz said.

“I think a player has to be ready and work for that. I think my strongest virtue, since I started to play football, is the mentality to never settle for anything, not to listen to critics and to work, which is the only way to get good results.”

Those are the results Ruidíaz craves, the ones that keep him pushing forward, as he hopes for at least four more seasons. But that’s getting ahead of things. There are trophies on the line he wants to help the Sounders win in 2024. And he’s ready to work to earn one.