IN ADVANCE of soccer's summer international transfer window beginning July 15, the rumor mill has started to swirl. Yet again, in the case of the Union, much of the talk is centered around forward Carlos Ruiz, whose value in Mexico is muy caliente.
Ruiz recently dispelled rumors regarding reports of a return to Mexican first-division club Puebla, a team he spent time with in 2009-10. Ruiz said it was Puebla's overzealous president telling media members his intent on bringing "El Pescadito" back to the fold. On Wednesday, the Mexican press was at it again, this time the newspaper Diario Xalapa reporting that Veracruz, a cash-strapped club in Mexico's second division and a longtime Puebla rival, has Ruiz on its "short list."
According to the report, Veracruz coach Daniel Guzman said it would be a week and a half before he got "this reinforcement," meaning Ruiz.
Ruiz said again Wednesday that he had not been contacted "by any Mexican clubs . . . yet."
Since rumors have emerged, manager Peter Nowak has reiterated that his offensive leader isn't going anywhere. In a recent news conference, Nowak even said that Ruiz is the one player on whom he plans to center the offense. He's made good on that promise, starting Ruiz in every match since his return from the Gold Cup, to the dismay of forward/midfielder Sebastien Le Toux and - while he'd never admit it - second-year stud Danny Mwanga. Mwanga and Ruiz are co-leaders in goals (four), despite Mwanga's coming on primarily as a substitute as of recent. A report just yesterday claimed Le Toux expressed his discontent with the current offensive lineup, adding that the chemistry between himself and Mwanga is palpable.
Ruiz himself has been playing like a man under the microscope since Gold Cup detail, scoring last weekend against Chivas USA and making runs to put himself in the position to score more. To anyone who watched Ruiz' play pre-Gold Cup and can honestly say he played that way before he left, might I suggest the free eye exam.
My naiveté leads me to believe Ruiz will be here when the transfer dust settles in August, but the realist in me knows that, given the overload at the position, something has to give. And if the rumors are true and Ruiz' recent play has proved he's worth it, tell me his potential isn't translating into dollar signs.
Ostensibly, if a club is eager to get top dollar for a player it is paying top dollar to, isn't it logical to expect Nowak to give the precious cargo speech to anyone with a pen, voice recorder and outlet to the Internet or a printing press?
You have to ask, is this what the Union is doing in Ruiz' case? It looks as if we'll have to wait a couple of more weeks to find out.
They don't speak the same language.
But they understand what the other is trying to convey at all times.
Perhaps that's the beauty of soccer - it is universal and harmonic.
As such is the synchronicity between Danny Califf and Carlos Valdes whenever the two are paired on a soccer pitch.
"They are my life insurance," Union goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon said. "They are two very strong and very physical defenders with good technique, and it's really important for us to be well protected in the back, and with those two, along with [Jordan Harvey]and Sheanon [Williams], I feel protected."
Physical is an understatement.
Califf, his arms draped in colorful tattoos and his long, black hair flying with reckless abandon, looks like a heavy metal rocker-turned-soccer player, who hits as if he'd rather play rugby than soccer. Best described by Vancouver forward Eric Hassli as a "smart player, but a major pain in the ass," Califf makes it his job to frustrate the opposition, sprinkling timely - and sometimes not so timely - hits, with a little bit of trash talk.
"He is a really smart player and a tough defender," Valdes said via translator. "I know that when he is there, I can focus on my assignment, because he has everything under control. I like playing with him because he knows how to play the position and he is good about his work."
Valdes, however, is on the conservative side. His defending consists of drawing opponents in, killing off their angles before going in for the kill, and relentlessly removing the ball from their feet. Very rarely when he pounces does the ball - and the attacker - get by. Valdes is tops in online fan voting for a spot in the July 27 MLS All-Star Game. Califf also is on the ballot.
"We just have that nonverbal communication, it's that familiarity with each other and after so many games [this season], I have an idea of what he's going to do and where he is going to be," Califf said of Valdes. "Whether he is going to step up and hold the outside, or he drops in and runs with the runner, I think we just have a good relationship. And don't let him fool you - he speaks a lot better than he lets on, so we get our points across and there is no problem."
Who needs words when, so far, a simple look has sufficed?
SHOTS ON GOAL
Union (7-4-5, 26 points) at D.C. United (4-5-6, 18 points)
When: Tomorrow, 7 o'clock
Where: RFK Stadium, Washington
TV: Fox Soccer Channel
On the web: Streaming online at MLSSoccer.com
For kicks: D.C. United has vamped its lineup with the acquisition of defender Brandon McDonald and MLS All-Star journeyman forward Dwayne DeRosario. The two were acquired this week via trades with San Jose and Red Bull New York, respectively . . . United coach Ben Olsen, a former player of Union boss Peter Nowak during his coaching days at United (2004-07), told Comcast SportsNet Washington this week that this will be a "statement game" for his club. Olsen added: "They are a beatable team, but they are very sharp right now. They are winning games, and there is something about them that keeps them successful." Olsen also lauded the Union defense, saying: "They are leaking less goals than we are, especially at home, and are closing up shop back there" . . . The playing status of MLS Golden Boot leader (leading goal scorer) Charlie Davies (eight goals) will be a late decision, as he aggravated a right ankle sprain suffered in United's 2-2 tie against Houston on Saturday . . . MLS veteran Josh Wolff and second-year playmaker Andy Najar also make the team dangerous . . . United will be without designated player Branko Boskovic, out with an ACL tear.
INJURY REPORT (as of Tuesday)
Questionable for the Union: Veljko Paunovic, FW (left hip strain)
Probable: Danny Califf, DF (bruised clavicle); Carlos Ruiz, FW (bruised rib)
Out for D.C. United: Branko Boskovic, MF (left ACL tear); Dejan Jakovic, DF (left hamstring strain); Devon McTavish, DF (concussion); Santino Quaranta, MF (concussion)
Doubtful: Marc Burch, DF (right hamstring strain)
Questionable: Charlie Davies, FW (right ankle sprain); Kurt Morsink, FW (right ankle sprain); Joseph Ngwenya, FW (right MCL sprain); Jed Zayner, DF (left knee sprain)
"It's an amazing feeling, I am just so happy right now. I don't know if I'll sleep tonight, because I want to keep this feeling going." - Union newbie Veljko Paunovic on his first MLS goal, which led to a 3-2 comeback win over Chivas USA Saturday.