The Fish is Off the Hook
You may remember a profile we ran on FC Dallas striker Carlos Ruiz last month. When Ruiz started playing Major League Soccer in 2002, he scored four goals in his first two games and went on to win the league scoring title and the championship. In the years since, however, he remained among the league elite but never recaptured the phenomenal form of his first season. Worse, his erratic behavior off the field and petulant outbursts on it were steadily eroding his prospects of ever playing in Europe.
Ruiz didn't score in the first game of the season this year, and as I watched the second game while wrapping up the story, a team official jokingly told me, "If Carlos doesn't score tonight, we're banning you from the stadium." At least I think he was joking; Ruiz didn't score that night against Real Salt Lake, nor did he the next game. Various schedule conflicts kept me away from any games since, but even with me gone it still took Ruiz until the sixth game, nearly a month later, to finally score.
Since then, the guy has been unstoppable. He is leading the team with six goals and has scored in a team-record five games in a row, but more important, he has four assists. Last week he scored a jaw-dropper from near the midfield line and garnered the Goal of the Week award. Last night at New York, Ruiz was both aggressive and—I never thought I'd say it—unselfish, dishing the ball time and time again.
One particular play proved to me his pledge to be a changed man this season is for real. At the top of the box, Ruiz took a hard foul as he charged goalwards and went down. Instead of sprawling and writhing in dramatic agony as in seasons past, Ruiz popped right up again and managed to attempt an awkward shot. To me, that said it all about Ruiz's new attitude—but he was far from done. He set up the first goal in the come-from-behind victory with a superb pass, and minutes later left a defender in a tangled heap with an incredible double spin before nailing the winner.
I'm leery of going back to Pizza Hut Park for fear of breaking the streak, but with Ruiz and Dallas playing like they are right now, I'd be crazy not to. --Rick Kennedy