THE LAST TIME the Union played Chicago, Carlos Ruiz scored the game-winner on a volley that stunned Fire keeper Jon Conway and made him look silly. And Ruiz also won MLS Goal of the Week honors.

Turns out it was the last time for him to do so in a Union uniform.

Pending a few John Hancocks, Ruiz is set to leave the team for Mexican club Veracruz, according to a source.

Ruiz didn't make the trip for tonight's game in the Windy City. The Union heads into the meaty part of its schedule without its leading goal scorer (Ruiz) but its opponent also should have a much different look.

"Chicago is a much different team, especially with the addition of Pavel Pardo," Union assistant John Hackworth said. "We know to expect some changes, it's going to be a challenge. You can't look at records. They may be the worst team in our conference but this is that time in the season where every team is fighting for points."

Chicago also acquired former Toronto FC defender Dan Gargan via trade last week to shore up a defensive front that has allowed 25 goals in 20 games.

Defensively, the Union will be without defender Sheanon Williams due to an ejection in last Friday's dismal 2-1 loss to Colorado. Nowak said that either Michael Farfan or rookie forward-turned-defender Ryan Richter are viable options. No mention, however, of six-figure benchwarmer Juan Diego Gonzalez, still looking to make his first MLS appearance this season.

However, defense isn't the issue - that would bean offense that hasn't been able to finish numerous chances. This was no more evident than against Colorado when the Union was able to squeeze out a lone goal in stoppage time from countless opportunities that went asunder inside the 18.

"That's why soccer can be such a cruel game sometimes," said Hackworth. "We don't have a problem creating chances, but literally our problem is the fact that we haven't been able to capitalize on the chances we do create."

The Union will have to do so, however, on short rest in a short week. The team returns home Saturday and with virtually no turnaround will host Houston (8 p.m., 6ABC) at PPL Park.

"I don't want to discount what Carlos brought to our team, but I think we are confident in the players we have," Hackworth said. "If you look at some of the games when he wasn't here, we were pretty good without him. For us, it's just a matter of finishing. It's imperative we get that down. We have to play a little differently now but hopefully we'll have guys that will step up and contribute and start putting some of these chances in the back of the net."