Is he a marginal upgrade? Maybe. But the acquisition of Carlos Ruiz is the next step down a dangerous road for D.C. United - a road their fans don't want to see them travel.
The comparison is a bit contrived, given that they each arrived in D.C. in very different circumstances - Davies as an immediate fan favorite, returning as a hero to the place that almost took his life and giving us the opportunity to watch him rise from the ashes, and Ruiz as one of the most hated players in MLS history. But the comparison isn't entirely without merit. They're both forwards who can score, but who don't always score in the prettiest or most popular of ways. And they both have a knack for embellishment.
For Davies, that knack was used with great success during his time with United. Davies earned two penalty kick opportunities for United in 2011 off plays where he hit the ground in the box with little to no contact. Over the course of the season, Davies became less and less popular with both the United fanbase and coaching staff. He fell out of favor with Ben Olsen because he wasn't putting in the requisite level of work that the young coach asks of his forwards. And he fell out of favors with fans because of the diving.
Ah, diving, a tactic that's become so engrained in the soccer that the sport will seemingly never escape its bad reputation. And yet it's just as significant a problem in the NBA. I'm actually surprised diving isn't seen more often in more sports. Why do only quarterbacks and punters dive in the NFL? Had Josh Morgan took a dive on the final drive against the Cincinnati Bengals rather than throwing the ball at an opposing player, the Washington Redskins would've earned one more win last year.
But Ruiz isn't hated for his diving. If diving was his only sin, we'd all be able to overlook this minor transgression and provide Ruiz with all of our support.
Ruiz's nickname is El Pescadito. It literally translates to "little fish." That implies more than just diving. His nickname isn't El Buzo (the diver) or even El Delfinito (the little dolphin).
He's named after a fish. Why? Well just picture what would happen if you pulled a fish out of the water and dropped it immediately on a soccer field. What would it do? It would writhe in pain, flip this way and that, gasp for air, and eventually it would perish. This is also an accurate description of what happens whenever Ruiz wants you to think he's been fouled, short of his own demise of course (unfortunately, some might say).
We don't hate Ruiz just for diving. We hate him because his on-field antics serve to thoroughly embarass our sport. He feigns injury, flops at the first sign of contact, complains to the referee whether valid or not, and delivers off-the-ball shoves and elbows at every opportunity. Stephen Lenhart has carved out a nice little niche for himself as MLS's new villain with a similar playing style, and Ruiz is far worse. They're men that no one wants to play against, true. But they also give soccer a bad name.
Ruiz will give United a bad name too. But perhaps Ruiz is the logical next step for Olsen. He earned his reputation as a player who is pesky, physical, aggressive, and hard to play against. Our lovable Olsen's Army theme pushed the team in that direction, as our team legend continued to add intelligent hard-working players. Those were some of our favorites of Olsen's traits when he was a player. Ruiz may have those traits, but he also has other traits that might not benefit the team as positively.
In the last quarter of last season, Olsen led his Army on a journey to the Eastern Conference Final via a conservative style of play that values work ethic over attractive soccer. With Ruiz in the lineup this year, our team might work harder, but it will also be even less sexy.
This is troubling.
How do we wear the word Tradition on the back of our jerseys while also adapting a playing style that is such a distant departure from the playing style that earned us those four stars on the front? How much longer can we listen to Olsen talk about how he wants this team to play like they did in the 90s when none of our recent acquisitions bear any resemblance to Marco Etcheverry or Jaime Moreno? (aside from Nick DeLeon's bleached hair.)
At age 33 and without much playing time in the past year, it's hard to see how Ruiz will really help this team. It might also be hard to see how he'll really hurt it though. United didn't give up anything to get him. Ruiz doesn't take up an international spot, and doesn't make a huge salary. United has the cap space to make this move, and Ruiz is at worst a replacement for Maicon Santos. He probably won't start ahead of Lionard Pajoy unless he earns it. Ruiz is probably only here because Raphael Augusto isn't ready for major minutes, because Walter Martinez sucks, and because Dwayne De Rosario isn't immortal.
Ruiz might hurt the team in other ways though. He might hurt the team at the box office. And while I don't know if there's any current United fan that will decide to stop attending matches due to only to the Ruiz acquisition, he could cost the team on a more general level. Prior to this week, United was entering the MLS season with a level of excitement near an all-time peak. United was a few fewer injuries and a proper red card call away from the MLS Cup Final, with all the momentum in the world. The fanbase has grown closer to the team than ever before, epitomized by the players and staff climbing into the snowy stands of Red Bull Arena.
How close do you feel to your team right now? Just a bit more distant now, right? All that momentum is gone. The Ruiz acquisition now has fans questioning Dave Kasper again, with some even questioning Olsen too. Some fans are questioning their own loyalty.
Not all of us though. Despite our objections, the majority of United fans will remain loyal to Olsen and to his Army. And if Olsen thinks this is a good move, then in Olsen we trust.