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Ruiz off the mark: Union 1 – 0 Whitecaps

Ruiz scores on PPL debut

Last time the Union played at PPL Park, Fred and Michael Orozco-Fiscal scored in a win over New York.

Those names – or their absence – say a lot about the team’s expectations for this year. Even as an expansion club, mediocrity was not acceptable. And mediocrity has never been a word to describe Saturday’s matchwinner Carlos Ruiz.

Dirty. Diver. MVP. Prolific. Ruiz has heard them all.

The Guatemalan hitman tapped in from two yards out on an assist from Sebastien Le Toux to lead the Union over the Vancouver Whitecaps on a bright and windy Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia.

Strong in the back

Another inconsistent offensive performance paired with stellar play in the back suggest a new makeup to this year’s Philadelphia Union. A team that had fewer clean sheets than a college dorm room in 2010 has played such solid defense that new captain Faryd Mondragon has not been forced into a difficult save in 180 minutes between the pipes.

Tinkering with the front line

A three-man strike force of Mwanga, Ruiz and Le Toux did little to inspire in the first half, and coach Peter Nowak tinkered with Le Toux’s role throughout. The Union #9 started as a right striker but moved into a left midfield role after 20 minutes before going back up top to a central spot twelve minutes later.

Kyle Nakazawa had a much improved performance and his runs through the center were the only opportunity for the Union to transition out of midfield into attack.

On twenty minutes, Nak’s run wide opened a gap for Califf to find Harvey on a foray into the middle. He played Miglioranzi into space and the midfielder sent a first time ball into the wind over Ruiz. After controlling it, Ruiz tapped wide to Le Toux but his shot was stuffed by an active Joe Cannon. A late offsides flag would have negated any brilliance from Le Toux.

Hassli cheap shot ignites rough stretch

Five minutes later, Vancouver’s giant French striker Eric Hassli earned the game’s first card when he cynically tripped Califf as the defender shielded him off a ball rolling towards Mondragon. Two minutes later, Nakazawa earned a caution for a reckless foul in the middle of the park. Valdes was lucky to escape without any colors after he came over the ball tackling Atiba Harris at the top of the box. One wonders whether the referee would have seen things differently if Harris was not so prone to treating every tackle as an opportunity for deep discussion with the PPL Park grass.  To close out a rough five minutes, Califf received a yellow card for a soft foul on Hassli.

As the half wore on, the game retained its rough edge while seeming to abandon its soccer side. Mwanga went in very hard for a header and earned a 35th minute yellow and Khalfan collected the final card of the half when his feet tangled with Mwanga’s.

First great chance on last play of the half

On the last play of the half, Miglioranzi played a bouncing clearance to Le Toux on the right. His deflected shot skipped in front of a sliding Ruiz and sent the teams to the lockers at zeroes.

Tactical changes

The Union came out for the second half determined to hold possession. Nakazawa sat very wide on the right and Harvey pushed high on the left. The ball movement improved instantly, with Nakazawa creating a threat that Vancouver struggled to adjust to tactically. After eight minutes of pressure, Williams found Le Toux breaking through the middle but the striker’s shot was blocked well by Rochat.

Hassli sent off

In the 57th, the game changed when Hassli was sent off for, again cynically, running through Valdes’ leg after a clearance.

Nowak waited until Vancouver sent on defender Wes Knight for middie Teibert before turning to a more offensive set. In a surprisingly bold pair of changes, Torres came on for Nakazawa and McInerney stepped in for Harvey. Torres hopped into a playmaking role with the versatile Carroll moving to left back.

The Union pressured Vancouver relentlessly but couldn’t find the rhythm to string together enough passes to break through the Whitecap defense.

Ruiz nets the winner

In the 77th, a fortuitous bounce from a Miglioranzi 30 yard volley broke to Le Toux on the right. He drove at Cannon before crossing for Ruiz to tap into a gaping River End net.

Six minutes later, Nowak pulled Mwanga for Gabriel Farfan, moving Carroll back to the midfield. The Whitecaps switched out Harris for Camilo, mostly because there was nothing else to do.

Six points from six for the Union and a confident defense can prepare for a strong Galaxy attack next Saturday.

Photo: Paul Rudderow


  1. Just so you know it was Cannon in goal not Nolly.

  2. PhillyHotspur says:

    Not the prettiest of affairs but I’m not about to begin to complain about 3 points……

    Our Midfield……..needs some work. Lets go Nowak

  3. Amazingly we are 2-0-0 with two clean sheets and I don’t even think we’ve played that well. Our ‘D’ has been outstanding (especially central) but our offense is “not a well-oiled machine” …..Yet. Torres certainly helped. He is a play maker and I hope he sees more minutes.

  4. Vinny Russo says:

    Maybe it wasn’t pretty but these were the types of games we lost last year or walked away with a tie because of silly blunders and miscues. And a big WELL DONE to the Captain! His take charge attitude was evident again!

  5. PhillyHotspur says:

    @ Vinny…………Yes, it was very nice to spend a day at PPL park and not see the usual blunders and miscues………Easily the #1 reason the club is at top of the Eastern Conf table. GetSome

  6. Josh Trott says:

    It is nice to see a W. This is not the football I favor, but this is part of the game. Physically hassling their strikers into stupidity, using cleats as tools of destruction, rather than creation, and riding the energy of the fans to brutal victory. This may be the true Philly soccer.

  7. I am still not impressed with Ruiz. His first touch and his fitness are seriously lagging, but you can see the talent was their. I don’t want to start my Harvey bashing, but every time he got the ball going forward yesterday he immediately passed it back to the defense. I guess that is better than his poor attempts at going forward last season, but if we are going to have a “fluid” system we need a left back who can do something besides pass it back to Califf or Valdes. Yesterday proved two things: Torres needs to be played more and Gabriel Farfan was impressive. What he lacked in talent he made up for with fight and commitment I would really like to see a Farfan brother slide in for Harvey at some point. Maybe it will be a bust, but I feel that Nowak has experimented with nearly every position on the field except for LB and its time to try something else.

  8. Andy Dillon says:

    Since when has the 6-yard box been reduced in size? A tap-in from 2 yards out?

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