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Union's Ruiz ready for another shot in MLS

When pressed, there is one thing Union forward Carlos Ruiz admits he doesn't like about Philadelphia. "It's really cold here," Ruiz confessed. "The weather here is crazy, this is my first time on the East Coast and it's taking some time to get used to the weather."

When pressed, there is one thing Union forward Carlos Ruiz admits he doesn't like about Philadelphia.

"It's really cold here," Ruiz confessed. "The weather here is crazy, this is my first time on the East Coast and it's taking some time to get used to the weather."

It didn't help that, at the time, the Guatemalan was at PPL Park, which was being battered by freezing rain on one of the dreariest Wednesdays in recent weeks.

Still, it was the only thing he could find wrong about the city that has given him another chance in Major League Soccer.

For seven seasons, the man known as "El Pescadito" or "Little Fish" racked up a goal-scoring count that made opposing defenses love to hate him. Ruiz' 82 goals in MLS ranks among the top 10 all-time and his 16 postseason tallies during glory years with Los Angeles and FC Dallas are still a league best.

But it wasn't just his scoring ability that made him a villain; it was his brash play, penchant for the occasional dive, and smart tongue that led to him being labeled a bad boy, and caused him to be ostracized in many MLS circles.

Following a 2008 friendly against Guatemala, U.S. national team goalkeeper Tim Howard had this to say after a run-in with the Union's newest go-to guy.

"He kicked me straight in the head. With Carlos, you expect that. You know what? He's dirty. I wish I could say otherwise. I've seen it [in MLS]. There is no place for it. It's reckless. It's there for everyone to see. I kind of expect it . . . that's what he does. I think you would rather have him be a man out there and say, 'Look, I don't like you; I am going to kick you.' You can almost respect it in a funny way. He has this way about him. He kicks, he punches . . . "

 Ruiz exited MLS that year after a falling out with Toronto, a team he had been traded to by the Los Angeles Galaxy. But he claims that since then, a 2-year run with clubs in Paraguay, Mexico and Greece have changed him.

"In soccer you never stop learning and when I went away I have learned a lot from my mistakes in the past," said Ruiz. "All I want is to show my teammates, the coaching staff and the fans of Philadelphia what I can do on the pitch. I don't care what people say about me anymore; I am here to score goals and help my team win."

At first glance, it would appear Ruiz' bad- boy image is long gone. The spiked hair has been replaced with a coifed style favored by most politicians. He speaks softer; he listens intently to questions. Carlos Ruiz today, dare I say it, seems to be a different person.

"We give Fish more authority right now because he deserves it," said Union boss Peter Nowak. "Carlos Ruiz matured and matured in a very good way. He fits well with our team and we (as a technical staff) are happy with who we've added to our group."

Tomorrow, Ruiz will get another chance to make a first impression in front of what will be a sold out PPL Park for the home opener against MLS expansion Vancouver. And it's a chance he's been craving.

"I have a lot of experience playing in this league," said Ruiz. "I am a goal scorer; it's what I was brought here to do. If I do my job well, my teammates, coaches and the fans here in Philadelphia will see that and embrace it. It's what they need and deserve."

And it's what Ruiz needs to ensure he won't be left out in the cold.

WHAT TO EXPECT AT PPL

To the 18,500-plus making the trek to PPL Park tomorrow, know changes are already in place or planned to ensure a better fan experience this season.

For starters, the Union added an additional 1,000 parking spaces around the stadium, eliminating satellite parking and corresponding shuttles.

"Every one of the parking spaces is within walking distance to the stadium. No satellite parking spots will be necessary," CEO and managing partner Nick Sakiewicz said earlier this week. Additionally, Sakiewicz noted the I-95 ramp being built near the stadium is scheduled for completion in late June or early July. The ramp has been under construction for nearly 2 years.

Finally, for the truly lazy, the Mangia in-seat dining system will be fully operational for the entire season. Mangia (pronounced MON-jah) is a system where fans can order not just food, but merchandise and tickets from their smartphone. Short of going to the restroom (although Mangia may soon have an App for that) you'll never have to leave your seat. PPL Park is one of only five sporting venues in the country that uses Mangia.

AKERS A PLAYER?

Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco has 1 day remaining on his 4-day tryout with Sporting Kansas City. Ochocinco, an avid soccer enthusiast, has been reportedly having a hard time keeping up but, to his credit, did tally an assist during a practice scrimmage yesterday. Peter Nowak, who was asked about Ochocinco's tryout laughed and said: "Why not, I think it's great, I just hope Mr. Ochocinco knows about our salary cap."

Nowak also told reporters that he too had been approached by an NFL player interested in a tryout. This has led to speculation and a Twitter debate as to who it might be. How about Eagles kicker David Akers? Akers was a stud soccer player in high school and held his own while goofing around with members of the U.S. national team at the NovaCare Complex when Philadelphia hosted the CONCACAF Gold Cup in 2009.

Who do you think the NFL player might be? Shoot me an email.

In the meantime, check out this Philly.com video that shows Akers doing his thing:

www.philly.com/philly/blogs/pretzel/David_Akers_soccer_player.html?ref=twitter.com

SHOTS ON GOAL

UPCOMING GAME

Vancouver (1-0-0, 3 points) at Union (1-0-0 3 points)

When: Tomorrow, 4 o' clock

Where: PPL Park, Chester

TV: 6ABC

On the web: Streaming video on MLSSoccer.com

For kicks: The expansion Whitecaps are no slouch, coming off a 4-2 season-opening victory last Saturday over Canadian rival Toronto FC. Union defenders will have their hands full with designated player forward Eric Hassli, who scored a brace against Toronto . . . Former Union midfielder Shea Salinas was taken by the Whitecaps in the expansion draft, but will not make the trip to Chester this weekend. The 23-year-old Texan sustained a knee injury during practice and will miss his second game . . . Tomorrow's game at PPL Park has been sold out for 2 months, according to Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz. This, even though the U.S. national team is playing Argentina, featuring reigning FIFA World Player of the Year Lionel Messi, just 2 hours away at New Meadowlands Stadium (7 p.m., ESPN2) . . . Whitecaps captain Jay DeMerit will miss tomorrow's MLS game to play for the U.S. . . . Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash is co-owner of the Whitecaps.

INJURY REPORT (as of Tuesday)

Questionable for the Union: Danny Califf, DF (left knee meniscus); Probable: Juan Diego González, DF (left hip flexor strain)

Out for Vancouver: Michael Nanchoff, MF (groin strain); Shea Salinas, MF (right knee sprain); Doubtful: John Thorrington, MF (right quad strain); Davide Chiumiento, MF (right hamstring strain); Questionable: MF Russell Teibert (R hamstring strain)

DID YOU KNOW?

Union boss Peter Nowak is the Union's version of Rusty Ryan, Brad Pitt's character with an eye-catching oral fixation for food and drink in director Steven Soderbergh's Oceans' Eleven and its sequels. Much like Ryan, there is rarely a time when Nowak isn't drinking something. His personal preference appears to be water, Gatorade, and in what has become a postgame favorite, hot coffee.

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