Photo by ISIphotos.com
By THOMAS FLOYD
WASHINGTON — Since joining D.C. United late in the preseason, Carlos Ruiz has been every bit the “old pro” coach Ben Olsen was looking for.
The Guatemalan veteran’s work ethic has impressed. His locker room personality has been positive. And he’s even taken United’s young Spanish-speaking players under his wing, often translating Olsen’s instructions.
But when it comes to on-the-field returns, Ruiz hasn’t left much of a dent, going scoreless in just 35 minutes spread over three appearances off the bench. While fitness was a concern a month ago, the ninth-leading-scorer in MLS history feels he is now up to speed.
“I think I am ready, in great shape,” Ruiz said. “It all depends about the coaching staff, if they want to play me 90 minutes or 45 minutes, but I think I can go more than 10 minutes or 15 minutes. It all depends about the situation of the game, if they need me or if they think I can start one game and try to get my confidence back.”
At the moment, Ruiz is aware he is third in the striker pecking order behind Lionard Pajoy and Rafael, both of whom have found net early this season. And the 33-year-old knows only production — not reputation — will change that.
“I’m not going to knock the door to the coaching staff — because I’m Carlos Ruiz, because I play in this league and I know the league — asking for a position in the first 11,” he said. “That’s not my style.”
Added Olsen: “I think he’s chomping at the bit to get more time, and I’m sure there’s some frustration building there. That’s natural, that’s a healthy thing I think, and I’ve got to find ways to get him more minutes. And he’s got to find a way to make those minutes count, even if they’re small.”
Here are some more notes from RFK Stadium on Thursday:
‘BACK TO BASICS’ IN BYE WEEK
After United’s 2-1 loss to Columbus on March 23 snapped a 19-game home unbeaten streak and dropped D.C. to 1-2-1, Olsen said he had “two weeks to whip this team into shape.”
While Olsen was coy on the matter Thursday, stating United are “just getting back to basics and working on what team we need to be to be successful in this league,” midfielder Chris Pontius offered more insight into what D.C. has been focusing on with 12 days between games.
“Being better on the ball,” Pontius said. “Obviously, the mistakes are going to happen. But we have to have more confidence on the ball, we have to have more confidence in our ability. I think we’ve gotten away from that. We’re too predictable right now. The more we can have the ball, create second-line runners and be unpredictable, I think obviously the more chances we get.”
SPORTING KANSAS CITY ON HORIZON
Getting back on track will be no easy task, however, as United travel Friday to face a Sporting Kansas City team Olsen has an 0-4-0 record against as coach. Although Kansas City (2-1-2) has gone through some growing pains while integrating new players this season, the club put it all together for a 2-0 win over first-place Montreal this past weekend.
“They played extremely well on both sides of the ball, pressure was good,” Olsen said. “They seemed like they had a very good understanding of what they wanted to do and they were effective in doing it.”
With Roger Espinoza and Kei Kamara out of the fold for Kansas City, having been replaced by the likes of Uri Rosell, Benny Feilhaber and Caludio Bieler, Sporting are less physical and more possession-oriented than in years past.
“I don’t mind them having possession back in their half,” Pontius said. “What will be dangerous is if they have possession and get their playmakers on the ball in and around our 18. So we can let them have possession back there. And a lot of keeping them off the ball will be for us to hold the ball when we do get it and not just go for it all on the counterattack.”
DELEON INJURY CREATES VOID
After suffering a grade two hamstring strain in the loss to Columbus, midfielder Nick DeLeon is expected to miss six weeks, opening a spot on the right flank. With veteran Lewis Neal (pubic stress reaction) sidelined, 23-year-old newcomers Marcos Sanchez and Kyle Porter are the top candidates to fill in.
Sanchez has appeared in three games (one start) for United and gone the full 90 in all three of Panama’s hexagonal World Cup qualifiers. Porter, a Canadian international, has made three appearances off the bench for D.C.
“Porter has got great offensive instincts,” Olsen said. “We’re trying to bring him along on the other side and he’s getting there. And Sanchez is a wonderful little player. He’s been in big games with the hex and we’re excited about both young talents. Both of them have to learn this league still, and they will.”
AUGUSTO PUSHING FOR MINUTES
Another youngster looking for playing time is Brazilian midfielder Raphael Augusto, who Olsen last month said has technical qualities “better than I’ve ever seen, better than I’ve ever played with and better than anything I’ve ever coached.”
Although Augusto’s game action since joining United in July has been limited to reserve contests and 50 minutes off the bench in a playoff match at Houston, Olsen is upbeat about the 22-year-old. With playmaker Dwayne De Rosario out with an adductor strain, Augusto could find his way onto the field at Kansas City.
“He’s not much different than where Sanchez and Porter are,” Olsen said. “They just need games. They’re going to take their lumps, and it doesn’t happen overnight, especially with young guys. But he’s got those tools that you see in a game that I’m encouraged with.”
What are your thoughts on Ruiz’s lack of playing time thus far? Should Olsen give the veteran a start? And how do you think United will fare at Kansas City without DeLeon?
Share your thoughts below.