Galaxy’s Ruiz tests United defense

He’s nicknamed “El Pescadito” — the little fish — but for many defenders in Major League Soccer, Carlos Ruiz is like a lazy carp that in seconds can turn into a fighting piranha. The Guatemalan striker, who has led the league in goal scoring for the last two seasons, will spearhead the Los Angels Galaxy’s attack against D.C. United tonight at RFK Stadium.

Ruiz has a habit of almost disappearing from a game only to suddenly appear and notch a crucial goal.

“If you take your eyes off him for one minute and don’t mark him tight he will score on you,” United defender Bryan Namoff said. “And he’s likely to score in the 89th minute of the game on the one chance he gets.”

Defenders accuse Ruiz of diving to earn free kicks, and some have even called him a flat-out cheater.

“He has that trademark in the league as a diver, but sometimes good players get those labels,” said United defender Ezra Hendrickson, who played alongside Ruiz with the Galaxy in 2002.

Ruiz, probably the most successful foreign star ever to play in MLS, is in good company. German goal-scoring legend Jurgen Klinsmann also was labeled as a diver when he went to play in England but quickly won respect as he scored plenty of goals. Klinsmann is now the Galaxy’s technical director.

“He’s the kind of player to make something out of nothing,” said United defender Mike Petke. “Don’t get me wrong, he is a talented player, but he’s just a goal scorer.”

And goals is what the game is all about. In 12 games this season, Ruiz has nine goals and two assists making him the MLS leader in points.

Ruiz missed six games after spraining his ankle against Colorado on May15, and the team went 3-3 in his absence. Since his return, the Galaxy have fashioned their first three-game winning streak, with Ruiz scoring three goals in the team’s last three games. The Galaxy were held scoreless at the Colorado Rapids on Wednesday, but only the excellent goalkeeping of Joe Cannon kept Ruiz off the scoresheet. Ruiz got a yellow card in that game for — you guessed it — diving.

At 24, Ruiz is the key player in L.A.’s dazzling offense that also includes Andreas Herzog, Jovan Kirovski, Alejandro Moreno and Joseph Ngwenya. He was on the injured list when the Galaxy last visited RFK on May19, but Ruiz wasn’t missed as the visitors won 4-2 with all the goals coming in a 10-minute span. Moreno scored three goals in nine minutes off three assists from Herzog.

Ruiz began his pro career with Municipal in Guatemala, and apart from seven months in Greece, spent his whole career in his homeland before joining the Galaxy in 2002. The 5-foot-9, 170-pounder began his prolific goal-scoring in MLS, notching two goals in his debut game, a 2-1 season-opening victory over United at the Rose Bowl. Since then, Ruiz has been unstoppable, scoring 24 regular-season goals in 26 games in 2002 and 15 goals in 26 games last season. Ruiz has averaged 1.62 points a game for his career, the second-highest MLS figure ever behind Stern John.

“He’s a typical pure goal scorer,” said United’s Freddy Adu. “He can play the worst game in his life and still find a way to score.”

Adu watching — Nottingham Forest coach Joe Kinnear didn’t think much of Adu in Wednesday’s friendly at RFK Stadium.

“Didn’t see much of the superstar,” Kinnear said, “but he’s still a baby isn’t he?”

Adu, 15, said his effort against Nottingham was his best game of the year.

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