Carlos Ruiz has a deserved reputation. And it's not a good one, to say the least. But I'm willing to look past it and welcome him to the Black-and-Red. Here's why.
To say that D.C. United's acquisition of Carlos Ruiz has inspired strong reactions from the Black-and-Red fanbase would be understatement. A commenter pointed out - and I think this may be right - that our collective reaction has to be one of the most negative backlashes to a player in MLS history. And there's good reason for the backlash.
Ruiz was a big part of the LA Galaxy's first MLS Cup-winning team in 2002, winning the League and MLS Cup MVPs that year. And if you didn't know, we D.C. fans aren't exactly fond of the Gals. A bicycle kick goal he scored against United was voted the Goal of MLS' First Decade back in 2006. He's helped our rivals, playing most recently for the Philadelphia Union and scored big goals against us. But that's not why people are angry. It's el Pescadito that has people up in arms.
He embellishes contact and gets calls that he shouldn't. He flops around on the ground like a particularly undignified fish out of water - hence his nickname. He gets away with cheap shots on opposing players, kicking defenders when the referee isn't looking or leaving a leg in on a challenge. He's the guy who had so pissed off MLS fans that many were happy for Ricardo Clarkwhen he lost his mind a few years ago and blatantly kicked Ruiz as the forward lay on the ground after a collision in the box. Ironically, I think Ruiz was defending Clark on the play; less ironically, video replay pretty clearly shows Clark kicking Ruiz in the shoulder, while the Guatemalan immediately grabbed for his forehead, unable to fight the urge to make his plight look worse than it already was.
And his joining the Black-and-Red strikes a lot of people as anathema. We don't want a dirty cheat on the team, right? And so people are angry because they see Ruiz as just that. Many have said they'll boo Ruiz when he steps on the field. A limited few have even threatened to boycott games until Ruiz is shipped out along with the horse he rode in on.
I look at Ruiz and see a guy I've cheered very hard against for a long time. When I heard that Rico Clark had kicked a player, I was confused - until I heard that it was Ruiz. Yes, his reputation is well deserved, but I just can't get as angry as that about this one.
It's by no means a perfect analogue, but I remember back in June 2011, there was another prolific goal-scorer United fans had little love for. He'd won a boatload of championships with a couple different teams but had made news more recently for his antics rather than his play. He'd called out his previous team's failure to pay him what he thought he was worth. He didn't mesh well with his then-current teammates or coach. He had a stupid goal-scoring celebration he did after every single score. He was all about him and not his teammates, the rap went. When United traded Dax McCarty to New York - of all teams, the Metros! - to bring in Dwayne De Rosario, there was some backlash in the fanbase, and for good reason - we were trading a young American for an old Canadian with a much higher salary. But there isn't a D.C. fan today who'd go back and unmake that trade.
Now, there's no way in the world that Ruiz will be as important to our team as DeRo has been, and the hate that Pescadito has earned is probably more potent than any hate DeRo ever got from us. But if Pescadito scores goals and helps us win games, are fans still going to keep booing him all year while he wears our colors? Will the small number of boycotters stay away from a title contender (knock wood) because of their distaste for one player? Or if Ruiz is successful as a part of United this year - big if, to be sure - will we get over his past and accept him as part of our present?
To my mind, a player's personal past gets checked at the door when he walks into the home locker room at RFK. Took a few dives? I'll look past it. Kicked a puppy? You're forgiven. Offed a hooker in Vegas? Just don't do it in our shirt. Whether we wanted him or not yesterday, he's a D.C. United player today. He's one of our guys now, and, even if I have to grit my teeth for the moment, I know for certain that I'm not going to cheer any less when he scores for us than when anybody else does. Because it's the badge on the front of the shirt that I love, and if you're helping us put a fifth star over it, then you've got my support.
That's just me, though. Let's hear your take in the comments.