Return of Ruiz might shake up Union lineup

Carlos Ruiz (center) battles Mexico's Israel Castro (left) during Gold Cup match.
Carlos Ruiz (center) battles Mexico's Israel Castro (left) during Gold Cup match. (Associated Press)
Posted: June 22, 2011

With Carlos Ruiz fresh off Gold Cup detail for Guatemala, Union manager Peter Nowak has some big decisions to make regarding who plays where starting tonight.

The Union will play its second and third of three matches in a week's span when it hosts Sporting Kansas City tonight at PPL Park, then Chivas USA Saturday.

SKC has a five-game unbeaten streak and is intent on climbing out of the basement of MLS' Eastern Conference.

The Union had a four-game unbeaten streak of its own broken on Saturday after what can only be called the "Veljko Paunovic Experiment" failed to produce the dividends Nowak might have hoped for. Again, credit the Union's defense, which limited Vancouver to just four shots and kept the tally to only the one scored by defender Alain Rochat in the Whitecaps' 1-0 win, a goal up for MLS' best of the week.

Evident was a lack of cohesion in the Union attack with the inclusion of the 33-year-old Paunovic, the club's latest signing. It was his first professional match since 2008, after which Nowak said his newest employee is still working on his "match fitness." An out-of-shape Paunovic started over Danny Mwanga, the second-year stud leading the team in scoring with four goals.

It's amazing Mwanga is even as effective as he is, considering the striker has been in and out of the lineup, in part because of shoulder and hamstring injuries, but primarily because of an inconsistent lineup that has seen him split time with Ruiz, Sebastien Le Toux and now Paunovic.

"It was good for him to start a game, and he had some good touches," Nowak said of Paunovic. "I think he is very promising. It's a matter of how he responds to the speed of the game. He's not match-fit."

And the overload up top?

"The more options we have, the better we are," Nowak continued. "It's always good to have options, and we have options right now. We can mix things up and create different looks and keep teams guessing."

Rumors have circulated that Ruiz was contacted by his former Mexican club Puebla and was mulling a return at the start of MLS' summer transfer window (July 15). But Ruiz dispelled transfer talk yesterday, adding that he is looking to "make history" here in Philadelphia.

It was apparent that while Ruiz was away on international duty, the Union offense flourished. Ruiz joined Guatemala following the May 21 win over Chicago. In that time, the Union scored eight goals in three matches, including a 6-2 rout of Toronto FC, in which Mwanga and midfielder Justin Mapp each had a pair of goals. In the nine MLS matches Ruiz appeared in before his departure, the Union had eight goals total.

The Union looks to remain unbeaten this season at home (4-0-3). Against a pesky Sporting Kansas City side, tonight's starting 11 will not only have to do their tasks effectively, but rely on the technical staff to utilize personnel who can also do so cohesively.

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