The "Little Fish" is hoping a move to new waters in Philadelphia will help him recapture the form that yielded 24 goals for the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2002. But Union officials must realize that a season of double-digit goals from Carlos "El Pescadito" Ruiz, now 31, represents a more realistic hope for the 2011 Major League Soccer season.
The Guatemalan striker signed with the Union on Tuesdays on a free transfer from Greek SuperLiga club Aris FC. In keeping with MLS policy, the terms and length of the deal weren't disclosed. There's no doubt the 5-foot-9, 182-pound Ruiz has capitalized on his low center of gravity and predatory instincts to produce a career filled with goals.
When you really think about it, Ruiz's numbers are staggering: 82 goals in 155 MLS matches with three teams (L.A., FC Dallas and Toronto FC); 41 goals in 86 appearances for the Guatemalan National Team; and 20 goals in 66 matches with various clubs in Paraguay, Mexico and Greece since he exited MLS in 2009. It's not often a finisher like that available for no transfer fee, even with him being on the wrong side of 30.
But it would be foolish to think Ruiz will replicate his scoring form with the Galaxy in a Union shirt. In his prime years with L.A. (he scored 15 goals for them in 2003 as well), Ruiz was just about as deadly a striker as MLS has seen. But he'll be asked to do a slightly different job by Union manager Peter Nowak. He won't have the burden of being the focal point of the attack here.
That said, Ruiz will add a much-needed diversity to the Union's goalscoring options. In 2010, it was basically Sebastien Le Toux and Danny Mwanga carrying that load alone. This season, opposing defenses won't be able to mark Le Toux out of the game as an overriding strategy to cut off the Union's scoring supply. Ruiz's reputation alone will warrant some attention from defenders.
In that sense, it seems like a no-lose proposition for Philadelphia, but Ruiz does come with a few supposed drawbacks. His work ethic has been questioned in other cities he's played in (specifically his playing weight), and he's been known to be a bit of a free spirit ... nothing along the surly lines of MLS veteran Amado Guevara, but an odd character nonetheless.
But none of that should be a problem with Nowak in charge of the Union. His no-nonsense style of management will nip any so-called "deviations" from the party line in the bud. After an inaugural season that saw unconditional fan support, even the most cautious of supporters feel the team has enough pieces in place for 2011 to make a run for a spot in the expanded MLS playoffs.
Nowak, assistant coach John Hackworth and CEO Nick Sakiewicz seemed to have learned from their relatively few personnel mistakes of last season and have launched a corrective course. The biggest of those is replacing mistake-prone goalkeeper Chris Seitz (and his late-season fill-in, Brad Knighton) with the experienced Faryd Mondragon in goal.
But there's also the sneaking sense that the Union brass know they got lucky with Le Toux's breakout season. If you subtract his goals from the mix last season, there's a good chance Philly would have won just two or three games. Now that the rest of the league is aware of Le Toux's prowess, it makes sense for the Union to have some other weapons in the attacking third.
And that's where Ruiz's MLS experience comes in ... he knows the pace and tempo of the league. His innate feel for what's going on around him should be worth five goals alone. And regarding those supposed personality drawbacks? Well, age mellows us all, and there's a feeling that Ruiz has some unfinished business in MLS. The Union and their rabid fanbase certainly hope that's the case.