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Philly veterans Paunović, Ruiz hope to silence critics

Veljko Paunovic of the Philadelphia Union

Photo Credit: 
Courtesy of Philadelphia Union

CHESTER, Pa. — Between them, they’ve been playing professional soccer for more than 30 years. But when the Philadelphia Union endured some recent offensive struggles, strikers Veljko Paunović and Carlos Ruiz still became the target of criticism.

Both veterans went a long way in quieting some of their critics with goals in Philly’s dramatic 3-2 win over Chivas USA on Saturday as the Union snapped a 294-minute goal-less drought.

For Paunović (above), who was signed by the Union two weeks ago after being in retirement for two-and-a-half years, his first MLS goal went a long way to showing Philly fans the kind of ability he still possesses.

“I understand that I’ve been gone for two years and people have different opinions,” Paunović said. “This was a game that was very important. People still see I have value to help the team — and I think I can do it for a long time.”

WATCH HIGHLIGHTS: Philadelphia 3, Chivas USA 2

Paunović, whose goal tied Saturday’s game at 1-1 early in the second half, later set up Ruiz’s go-ahead tally with a well-struck long ball, adding his first MLS assist to his first MLS goal.

“You can’t imagine how happy I am,” Paunović said from the locker room Saturday. “I don’t want to sleep tonight.”

The Serbian and longtime La Liga veteran has started all three games since being signed by the Union, including the last two as an attacking central midfielder. Paunović says he’s comfortable in that role, but on a few separate occasions, he dropped back deeper than attacking players usually roam.

“I’ve been playing for so long, so I’m used to any position in the midfield or attack,” Paunović said. “I suppose I cannot be a good goalkeeper, though.”

Meanwhile Ruiz, who’s started the last two games after returning from Gold Cup duty, immediately downplayed the Union’s offensive woes. Before their three-goal outburst against Chivas, Philly had scored just twice in the previous four games.

“I think in this position, where we’re in first place in our conference, the press sees a couple of things — small things — to judge the performance of the team,” Ruiz said. “You’re always happy to score three goals. I think we’re more happy for the performance in the second half because we worked together.”

Still, Ruiz, who’s had his fair share of critics since joining Philly in the preseason, felt like he showed the fans something when he scored for the fourth time this season, an impressive goal at a very opportune time.

“When I scored that second goal, I had a lot of energy,” the Guatemalan said. “I had energy to show the fans we are working hard.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.