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Carlos Ruiz Experience Starts Poorly, Nearly Costs The Union Dearly

HOUSTON - MARCH 19: Carlos Ruiz #20 of the Philadelphia Union gives Andrew Hainult #31 of the Houston Dynamo an elbow as he goes up for a header in the first half at Robertson Stadium on March 19, 2011 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

[Editor's Note: After reviewing FIFA's Interpretation of Rule 12, Ruiz committed a foul but the result should have been an indirect free kick for Houston. "Careless" means that the player has shown a lack of attention or consideration when making a challenge or that he acted without precaution. • No further disciplinary sanction is needed if a foul is judged to be careless."]

The acquisition of Carlos Ruiz, former MLS MVP and a Guatemalan international, was supposed to bolster the offensive ranks of the Philadelphia Union. His goal scoring record in MLS play is undeniable (156 games played, 82 goals), as is his international scoring record (83 games, 41 goals), but his lackluster display during the Union's opening game left much to be desired.

His first touches immediately harkened back to 2002, when he entered MLS and set the league ablaze. Seemingly flicking the ball up and down between two Houston Dynamo defenders with the ease of a teenager practicing juggling in a backyard, Ruiz looked poised to show off his talent early into the match.

Instead his attempts to either break into the Dynamo's 18 or feed a teammate were quickly smothered by the Houston defense and from there he began to disappear. Not much was seen of Ruiz offensively afterward, partially due to head coach Piotr Nowak's decision to start three central midfielders. He started Brian Carroll and Stefani Miglioranzi in the center of the midfield and Kyle Nakazawa, an attacking midfielder who is best suited for the space behind the forwards, from the right, outside midfield role.

Ruiz was seen from there on out near the ground. His reputation for flopping and diving, for which he earned the nick name "El Pescadito" or "Little Fish," is not only noticed by fans and players, but also by referees. Abi Okulaja, the game's head referee, did not react well to Ruiz going to the ground and thought little of any incident involving the 31-year-old striker. Neither did Nowak, who was visibly upset with the play of the forward, and perhaps with his choice to go to the ground often, during portions of the game.

The microcosm of Ruiz's less than stellar night was a much deserved yellow card for leading with his elbow on a header attempt. If anything Ruiz should have received a red card because he not only led with the elbow but also caught Dynamo defender André Hainault in the face with it. If Okulaja wasn't inconsistent with his foul decisions throughout the game, Ruiz easily could have cost the Union two points, or all three, with his choice of elbow.

The video of the elbow is below. It's clear that Ruiz fouls Hainault and proceeds to apply his elbow to the Canadian's face but was it a yellow or a red? This writer believes the latter, especially after incidents involving players like Wayne Rooney in the past month. (Skip to 2:24 to see the elbow)


A red card would have certainly earned Ruiz the ire of Union fans, as does his diving, but the real crime of the night that Ruiz was a part of was the decision of Nowak to keep young striker Danny Mwanga on the bench to start the game. An over reliance on the up front partnership of Sebastien Le Toux, who was forced to cover a large amount of the right side of the field due to Nowak's three center midfield decision, and Ruiz placed Mwanga on the bench.

A second year Mwanga entered into the game in the 58th minute and almost instantly delivered much needed offense. He added a breath of fresh air into the front line and managed to nearly grab his first goal of the 2011 MLS season.

In upcoming games Nowak needs to balance out his desire for more goals with the fact that Mwanga in the game and Le Toux roaming the midfield actually provided the boost in attack, not Ruiz or three central midfielders. An approach to future line ups should place Mwanga up front, with Le Toux on a wing and perhaps the removal of Miglioranzi in favor of Amobi Okugo. Even the inclusion of 18-year-old forward Jack McInerney would provide better return-on-investment than what Ruiz displayed last night.

If Ruiz is to not only score but also keep his starting role, he needs to buy into Nowak's system. Movement is key to the Polish coach's offensive tactics and that is something that Ruiz has lacked throughout his career. Without it he will simply take away the spot from the ever improving Mwanga.

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