Posted: Monday May 23, 2011 4:50PM ; Updated: Monday June 6, 2011 4:28PM
Steve Davis
Steve Davis>INSIDE SOCCER

Union's Ruiz turns back the clock, Beckham takes his leave once again

Story Highlights

Union forward Carlos Ruiz scored a wonder goal but can he keep it up?

Scoring in MLS this season is on pace for a league-record low

David Beckham's absence to play in a testimonial is further disrespect to MLS

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Luke Rodgers
Luke Rodgers has emerged as a valuable role player for the Red Bulls.
Bob Levey/Getty Images

Know your Major League Soccer -- Five things you should know about Week 10:

1. One huge goal in Philly: Good to see that Philadelphia striker Carlos Ruiz can still concoct the occasional outrageous goal. His left-footed stunner on Saturday was the important game-winner over Chicago.

But truly, how many more of those does can the Little Fish have in his bag?

Ruiz has three goals in 10 games so far, which is hardly up to his formerly prolific rate. In eight previous MLS seasons Ruiz struck at a rate of more than once every two games (82 in 155, to be precise). The striker who can hit once every other match can expect a long, lucrative career.

And Ruiz, now 31, has had one. Only, he doesn't look much like the player he was before. Perhaps it's not just him; the league is oodles better than when he struck 24 times in 2002. It's a little better than in 2006, his last truly productive season, when he scored 13 times for Dallas over 27 matches.

The other critical point to consider here is Philadelphia's makeup. Peter Nowak has built a team that's very difficult to play against, which explains the Union's current post as Eastern Conference leaders. They get players behind the ball and everyone except Ruiz is a pretty good tackler.

But Philadelphia's attack is rudderless. The players aren't much at combining, starting with Ruiz. They don't make great choices with the ball, and the side desperately needs some razzmatazz that a creative influence would bring. Saturday, Justin Mapp set up as the playmaker. He did so as Brazilian attacker Fred did so often last year, as a left midfielder asked to slant inside when Philly has possession, which is kind of playmaking by default.

Result: If you like your soccer with a lot of, you know, chances, then Philly isn't going to be easy on the eyes. On the other hand, maybe Ruiz has just a few more wonder strikes to deliver. That would certainly help.

2. Scoring down. Way down: Goals in MLS are coming at a drip in May. That's hardly a surprise considering how many creative artists have been removed by doctrines of brute force. Still, this should alarm MLS.

Last year's leaguewide goals per game (2.41) was an all-time low. But write that record in pencil, not pen, because there's a decent chance the number will drop once again.

Going into Sunday's matches (a pair of 0-0 stalemates) the league average had fallen to 2.37. Compare that to an all-time best of 3.57 in 1998, when everyone understood the danger of stodgy soccer to a league still supported by delicate, spindly roots.

But now the really bad news: games in May are truly scraping the bottom in terms of offense, as teams like Dallas and Real Salt Lake try to reinvent their attacks minus their valued creators. Teams have scored just 60 goals through 31 MLS games in May. That's a lowly 1.94 a match.

Suggestion for the league while the big brains try to sort this out: get a coffee sponsor and start handing out free samples, at least.

3. The role-playing Red Bulls: An entire team of Luke Rodgers' might not win a bunch of MLS games. But an MLS team without a few Luke Rodgers' won't win many either.

Rodgers, the Red Bulls' lightly decorated target forward, set up Dane Richards for New York's first goal in Saturday, and then was involved in the attack that led to the late equalizer in a 2-2 road result.

He's also the very embodiment of Hans Backe's quick study of MLS ways, why he has accomplished at New York what so many decorated, pricey coaches before him couldn't: he understands the value of role players within Major League Soccer's restrictive salary structure.

Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez get the big headlines, with the subheads typically reserved for Dwayne De Rosario, Juan Agudelo and, increasingly, Tim Ream. But equally important is a roster chalk full of complementary parts, the workdays who simply do their jobs all around the park.

Joel Lindpere quietly got his due last year. Similarly this year, fans have already grown to appreciate the way Teemu Tainio and Jan Gunnar Solli police their beats with professionalism and efficiency, Tainio at holding midfield, Solli at right back.

Not as much has been said about Rodgers, probably because everyone initially assumed Agudelo and Henry would form the strike tandem around Red Bull Arena. But Rodgers does his job, growing steadily into one of the dependable target men in MLS. He has a couple of simple responsibilities, and he manages them nicely. Not spectacularly, but steadily.

He holds up play on offense, makes good runs inside the penalty area and then bothers defenders when the Red Bulls lose the ball. That's about it. He has three goals and two assists -- not bad at all for the team's "third" striker, who is really now the second striker, having swiped the starting role from Agudelo.

Saturday Rodgers played alongside Agudelo while Henry rested an ailing knee. On one hand, 25,000-plus weren't there to see Rodgers, so that may have been a bit of a bummer. On the other hand, there's tremendous value in players who know their roles and don't over-complicate things.

4. David Beckham goes on holiday ... again: When you talk about David Beckham missing time with the Galaxy on personal leave, you really need must be specific these days. There is a growing rap sheet of incidents.

Beckham played Saturday as another of his seeing-eyed free kicks set up the only goal in a 1-0 win over Chivas USA. But his goal in the L.A. derby won't be the priority David Beckham talking point on fans' bulletin boards this week. Rather, his excused absence will be.

His departure to participate in Gary Neville's testimonial this week in England has been excused publicly by Galaxy management. But why would they acquiesce? Again?

Coach Bruce Arena didn't really explain it away very well. Nor did Beckham, who joined Arena in sounding defensive, even a bit guilty, about it all. That's a sure sign that they understand how big a slight this is to his club and MLS, which once again come across as piddling little distractions to Beckham's personal pursuits and pleasures.

So, let's get this right: The same team that fights tooth and nail to get every single referee's call, to make sure they squeeze every possible point from every single match, is now feeling charitable about letting its centerpiece go on holiday for a touchy-feely testimonial? It hardly adds up.

When Beckham declined to participate in the early stages of L.A.'s preseason training, Galaxy management made excuses. Management obliged later when Beckham put his desires over team needs to go see the royal wedding.

They are saying all the right things now. But would it surprise anyone if the mumbling and grumbling among players is growing? After all, they are all pulling for Team Galaxy. He's clearly pulling for Team Beckham -- while alerting the world that MLS is just a little plaything, not a competition to be taken seriously.

Don't forget, this is a fellow who started just 16 games for the Galaxy over the 2009 and 2010 seasons combined -- pitiful return for the righteous money L.A. pays him.

Los Angeles is in first place in the West -- kind of. Real Salt Lake has a full five games in hand, which is a mighty big hand. First place and home field advantage in a potential conference final looms large.

The Galaxy plays Houston on Wednesday, a match Beckham will miss. If the Galaxy can't take full points, it'll be a mighty interesting week around Planet Galaxy.

5. Team of the Week:

Goalkeeper: Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

Defenders: Richard Eckersley (Toronto), Omar Gonzales (Los Angeles), Jamison Olave (Real Salt Lake), Jordan Harvey (Philadelphia).

Midfielders: Dane Richards (New York), Juninho (Los Angeles), Osvaldo Alonso (Seattle), Jack Jewsbury (Portland), Brek Shea (FC Dallas).

Forward: Carlos Ruiz (Philadelphia).

Week 10 MLS Power Rankings
 
New Rank Previous Rank Team
1 2 Los Angeles Galaxy (W/L/T: 6-2-5)
Landon Donovan had a quiet night, and the Galaxy didn't create much in a 1-0 win over Chivas USA. To their credit, Bruce Arena's men got all three points. On the other hand, what might the L.A. offense look like when Donovan goes Gold Cupping in June?
2 3 New York Red Bulls (4-2-4)
Earning a point in Houston isn't the worst of outcomes, especially with Thierry Henry on the bench. Dane Richards was once again the Red Bulls designated Dynamo killer, striking almost immediately for the road team. If New York played Houston every week, Richards might be bound for Old Trafford or some other brilliant Euro destination.
3 1 Real Salt Lake (5-1-2)
Jason Kreis' team broke out the special uniforms, and they did get their first point ever in Dallas in a scoreless tie. Still, the proud team from Utah is searching on offense. There was very little threat for the second consecutive match as the team copes with the loss of playmaker Javier Morales.
4 6 Philadelphia Union (5-3-2)
Carlos Ruiz isn't scoring much these days, but he can still hit an occasional doozy, eh? His very cool golazo couldn't have come at a better time, late in a 2-1 home win over Chicago. Goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon made his first mistake this year, although it didn't prove costly in the end.
5 5 Seattle Sounders (4-3-5)
Jeff Parke's first goal in seven years rescues the night at Qwest as Seattle finally squeezed one past Sporting Kansas City in stoppage time. Sigi Schmid remains in tinker mode, this time going with a diamond midfield. Servando Carrasco didn't pass muster on the right, but Mauro Rosales showed promise as the central creator.
6 4 Colorado Rapids (4-3-4)
All the injuries to forwards certainly showed in a dour, scoreless draw at home against Toronto. Truly, no team should be shut out at home by Toronto, especially the reigning champs. They are definitely missing Omar Cummings. Conor Casey, still getting his fitness, played 60 minutes but couldn't do much.
7 7 FC Dallas (5-3-3)
The grind goes on at Pizza Hut Park, where FCD just dug out more points in a 0-0 draw Sunday against Real Salt Lake. By the way, why is Dallas trying to corner the market on severe weather delays around MLS? Exactly three weeks after something similar in the Dallas-Galaxy proceedings, Sunday's final minutes were delayed one hour, 40 minutes.
8 10 Portland Timbers (5-3-2)
Talk about a formula that works: three games in a row, Portland has used one set-piece strike to get a result. This week's hero, Eric Brunner, got the double word score for scoring against his old team. Speedy winger Sal Zizzo always looks great coming off the bench.
9 8 Columbus Crew (3-3-4)
Having waded into a tougher part of the schedule, the Crew is getting stuck. Saturday's loss in Portland leaves the Crew with just two goals in five road games so far. Robbie Rogers needs a career reboot. Eddie Gaven needs to locate the lost confidence. Even trusty ol' Chad Marshall had a bit of a stinker Saturday.
10 9 Chivas USA (3-4-3)
We didn't see much of the scruffy stuff we usually get from a derby match with the Galaxy, but we did see a pretty professional effort from the Goats, who stretched the well-heeled opposition and made the Galaxy work for their 1-0 win, at least.
11 11 Houston Dynamo (3-3-5)
More than 25,000 see Sergio Koke score his first MLS goal. (Off a corner kick ... what else when you're talking about the Dynamo?) But the Orange gets a taste of its own meds when New York equalizes late ... on a corner kick.
12 15 San Jose Earthquakes (3-4-3)
After struggling for results at home earlier this year, the 'Quakes have won two in a row at Buck Shaw. Bobby Convey's free kick goal ... cross or shot? Who knows? He didn't stick around for postgame interviews, which seemed strange. The week ahead is a bit odd as the team travels to Chicago for a midweek U.S. Open Cup clash, then hustles back to the Bay to face the Fire again, this time in league play.
13 12 New England Revolution (3-4-4)
While Steve Nicol looks for a starting 11 arrangement that works, he may have a bigger problem. The bad goals are falling in behind (once trusty) Matt Reis at too frequent a clip these days. Bobby Convey's free kick sneaked in the back door in San Jose's 2-1 win, and the Revs remain winless on the road in 2011.
14 13 D.C. United (3-4-3)
United took a break from league play to face Ajax in a 2-1 loss Sunday at RFK. They'll look for their second road win of the year next week in Portland. A little unexpected bonus: they'll have Andy Najar, who wasn't selected for Honduras' Gold Cup side.
15 16 Chicago Fire (1-4-5)
That humble little four-game unbeaten streak (ahem, four ties) is over after Saturday's 2-1 setback in Philadelphia. Chicago's only win came back in March, against lowly Kansas City. For those keeping score (presumably the ownership, for one) coach Carlos de los Cobos is 10-16-14 in a season and a half.
16 14 Sporting Kansas City (1-6-1)
June 4 simply cannot arrive quickly enough. Peter Vermes' team remains on a desperate hunt for points after Seattle's stoppage-time goal scuttled efforts to pick up a point in the team's eighth consecutive road match. Two more away from home before the grand opening of Livestrong Sporting Park.
17 17 Vancouver Whitecaps (1-5-5)
The Whitecaps had a weekend off between matches in the Canadian Championship -- and they have some work to do there, heading into Toronto after a 1-1 draw at Empire Field in the front end of the home-and-away set.
18 18 Toronto FC (2-4-6)
Behind a makeshift midfield, TFC nursed home a 0-0 draw at Colorado. All things considered, not a terrible result. In fact, the team has two wins and three ties in six matches in May in all competitions, which isn't too bad either.
 

 
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