CHESTER, Pa. — Philadelphia Union striker Carlos Ruiz thought his days of playing for his country were over.
But when Ever Hugo Almeida — who coached Ruiz at CSD Municipal in Guatemala and Club Olimpia in Paraguay — took the reigns of the Guatemalan national team, Ruiz decided to come out of retirement after two-and-a-half years.
Now, “El Pescadito” headlines a Guatemala team looking to make some noise at the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup, beginning June 6 when they face Group B rival Honduras at The Home Depot Center.
“I know how he works,” Ruiz said of Almeida. “He’s the reason I came back to the national team. It’s very important for my country.”
Guatemala’s best finish in the Gold Cup came in 1996 when they placed fourth, but Ruiz’s attacking ability immediately makes los Chapines a formidable threat in this tournament. The Union striker is Guatemala’s all-time scoring leader with 42 career goals, and currently leads Philly with three goals, including a stunning 40-yard, left-footed half volley in last Saturday’s win over Chicago.
“He’s capable of doing those things,” Union manager Peter Nowak said. “That’s why he’s so dangerous — because of those surprise moments. No one suspects he’s going to pull something like that out of his sleeve. And all of a sudden, it happens.”
Ruiz will report for international duty following Philly’s contest against Toronto at BMO Field on Saturday (12:30 pm ET; Direct Kick, MatchDay Live) and could miss anywhere between two and five games, depending on how far Guatemala advance.
Considering no one else on the Union has scored more than one goal this season, it would seem Ruiz’s production would be hard to replace. But Ruiz doesn’t think that will be much of an issue.
“We have great players on this team,” the Guatemalan said. “Any player can play the same or better than me. Danny [Mwanga] is recovered. [Jack McInerney] is a great player. Levi [Houapeu] can play that position. Peter is not going to have a problem to try to find another forward to play in my position.”
In addition to Mwanga, McInerney, Houapeu, rookie Chris Agorsor and, of course, the club’s 2010 leading scorer, Sébastien Le Toux, the Union may have another option to help fill Ruiz’s void up top.
Serbian striker Veljko Paunović has been on trial with the club for a while and recent reports indicate their marriage is on the verge of being official. On Thursday, a Union coach declined comment on the record, but Paunović himself tweeted earlier this week that he signed and Nowak indicated in his weekly press conference that help could be on the way.
“Right now, we have options when Carlos leaves,” the Union manager said. “And we’re still looking to get a couple of players to help us for the end of season. We’re going to be fine.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.
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