As recently as Tuesday, it was difficult to predict who would supplement the goal scoring output of Sebastien Le Toux and Danny Mwanga.
Outside of the Union's top two guns, second-year striker Jack McInerney registered the highest 2010 goal total of any returning player: three.
Enter Carlos Ruiz, the third all-time leading scorer among active MLS players (behind only Jeff Cunningham and Landon Donovan).
“It’s a great opportunity for me to come back to Major League Soccer,” Ruiz told philadelphiaunion.com on Wednesday. “[My goal is to] try to show from the beginning why I’m here, try to work very hard and be an example with my teammates.”
At his best, Ruiz can be as prolific as any striker in the league. During a five-season stretch between 2002 and 2006, the 31-year-old tallied 74 goals – an average of 14.8 per season – in regular season action. He also holds league records for most postseason goals (16) and goals in a single postseason (eight in 2002).
WATCH: Ruiz Highlights
After a relatively sub-par season with FC Dallas in 2007 (seven goals in 19 starts) and an injury-plagued campaign with two different clubs in 2008, Ruiz departed MLS for Paraguayan side Olimpia Asunción, where he tallied 10 goals in only 18 appearances in '09. Next up was a stint with Puebla FC of the Mexican First Division, where he scored nine times in 33 appearances. Most recently, Ruiz latched on with Aris FC, where he struggled to find his goal scoring touch in 15 Greek Super League appearances. He did, however, score three goals in 418 minutes of Europa League action with the club.
Now back in MLS, “El Pescadito” – a nickname, translating to “Little Fish,” that he inherited at age 16 in his first year as a professional with Guatemalan side CSD Municipal, intended to adoringly describe his knack for slipping through defenses – is looking to recapture his place among the league’s premier attacking threats.
“I’m a very aggressive forward,” the 2002 MVP and two-time Golden Boot winner said before boarding a plane to Greece for Philadelphia’s final preseason training camp. “The passion I feel for this game – I don’t think other players feel it like me. I always try to win, no matter what. If it’s practice or if it’s a game, I always want to win.”
Wins will come easier for the Union in 2011 if Ruiz proves to be a formidable third scorer, a void that contributed to the club finishing 11th in total goals last season. The spine-reinforcing trio of Brian Carroll, Carlos Valdés and Faryd Mondragón will also help the club in the standings, but the addition of Ruiz ignites a ripple effect: By partnering Ruiz with Mwanga up top, Le Toux is free to roam underneath and out wide, a role that makes it tougher for defenders to keep track of his whereabouts.
SEE: Ruiz Photos
The bottom line is this: Ruiz immediately makes the Union more diverse and explosive in the attacking third. He fills the need for an experienced, pure striker and dangles the potential of challenging for an unprecedented third Golden Boot.
If Guatemala’s all-time leading scorer delivers in his first year with Philadelphia, the club just significantly increased their playoff odds.
“I think this team deserves to be in better position than last year,” said Ruiz. “Great fans, great atmosphere, one of the best soccer stadiums in the league.”
“I’m going to work hard and try to score goals – that’s why I’m here.”