CHESTER, Pa. — For a split-second, Danny Califf was getting ready to scream at teammate Carlos Ruiz for a muffed free kick on Saturday night.
“And then he pulls out that shot,” Califf told MLSsoccer.com after the match. “And I was stunned.”
That shot, many Union teammates agreed following the club’s exciting 2-1 win over Chicago at PPL Park, turned into one of the best goals they had ever seen.
Following his own free kick getting blocked in the 74th minute, Ruiz ran onto the ball, stopped it, turned and launched a deep left-footed shot over Chicago goalkeeper Jon Conway’s head. The goal came from nearly 40 yards out and was perfectly placed, hitting the bottom of the crossbar and bouncing straight down. And it proved to be the game-winner.
“That’s got to be up for the goal of the year, I’d have to say,” Union midfielder Justin Mapp said. “A left-footed turnaround? It was pretty special.”
“Amazing,” added rookie Michael Farfan, who netted the club’s first goal of the game. “I definitely haven’t been on the field for too many of those goals.”
Califf, who’s been playing professionally since 2000, said it was one of the top five goals he had ever seen in person. And yet, that’s what he’s come to expect from Ruiz.
The Guatemalan striker has certainly been up-and-down in his debut season with the Union — at the center of much debate surrounding the scoring difficulties exhibited by Philadelphia’s forwards — but he still has the ability to score big goals.
Ruiz ranks ninth all-time in MLS for career goals and currently leads Philly with three tallies on the year.
“You can never count him out,” Califf said. “It doesn’t matter how many balls he loses. It doesn’t matter what’s going on in the game. He’s always a threat. At any time, he can score a goal. That’s a big pressure to put on a defense.”
Ruiz admitted after the game that he “didn’t plan it that way” and “it just kind of developed.” He also knows that despite the wonder goal, he must continue to find a way to mesh better with Sébastien Le Toux, the Union’s leading scorer from a year ago.
“Sébastien is a great player and sometimes we play almost the same and we make the same runs,” Ruiz said. “We talked this week and we came to a conclusion that we are going to play off each other. If it is better for the team, we are going to stay after practice to get better.
“He is a great player for this team and I have to understand how he plays," Ruiz continued about the Frenchman. "He had a great year last year and he wants to play the same way. If I can help him, for sure I will.”
Only time will tell if Ruiz and Le Toux can keep the Union offense churning. But for one night at least, Ruiz showed everyone at PPL Park why he will go down as an all-time MLS great.
“He’s had special goals throughout his career,” Mapp said. “So why stop now?”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.