Spicing up the Cup
MLS title game pits top scorer Twellman vs. MVP RuizPosted: Friday October 18, 2002 6:08 PM
Updated: Friday October 18, 2002 6:47 PM
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -- Carlos Ruiz and Taylor Twellman were frustrated playing soccer in Europe. So they joined MLS and became the league's two highest scorers.
On Sunday, one of them will be a champion.
Ruiz was named the league's MVP on Friday after scoring 24 goals in the regular season and leading the Los Angeles Galaxy to their third final in four years.
Twellman was runner-up for the award after scoring 23 goals for the New England Revolution, who will play for the MLS Cup for the first time. The site of the game, the Revolution's home in Foxboro, Mass., was chosen before the season.
"Taylor's like Carlos," Los Angeles coach Sigi Schmid said. "You can never feel completely confident that you've got a hold of them. They're like trying to have an animal in a trap.
"The trap never seems completely closed. They always find a way to sneak away."
Ruiz led the league in goals and Twellman was tops in points. Twellman had 52 points to 49 for Ruiz in their first MLS seasons.
Ruiz, known as "El Pescadito" (The Little Fish), played in Greece for PAS Ioanina for six months last year after seven years with CSD Municipal in his native Guatemala.
"It [Greece] was a learning experience. [I] went to a place he'd never been before," Ruiz said through an interpreter. "[I] wasn't able to assimilate in the way [I] would have liked, but [I] looked at this as a life experience that made [me] better."
Twellman had a similar challenge when he joined TSV 1860 Munich of the German Bundesliga in April 2000. He led its reserve team in goals in his first season but wasn't promoted from that team in 2001.
"The coach didn't like me," he said, although the experience helped him handle adversity, like the knee injury that sidelined him for the last playoff game but healed enough for him to play Sunday.
"If this was two years ago, I think it would have hit me harder," said Twellman, who hasn't ruled out returning to Europe. "If the coach doesn't like you, it's fine. You just have to move on and be a professional, and that's the biggest thing I learned."
Twellman was one of the biggest bargains in league history this year, earning the league minimum of $24,000, according to Soccer America. He is expected to negotiate a new contract in the offseason.
It may have helped him accept finishing second in the MVP voting by general managers, coaches, players and members of the media.
"I'm not one bit disappointed," Twellman said. "Carlos deserves it. It's an honor to even be up for the award."
Ruiz joined a team that needed a threat on the front line. The Galaxy's 52 goals were second in the league last season, but highly paid Mexican Luis Hernandez led the team with just eight. Cobi Jones was first with 22 points on six goals and 10 assists.
"It definitely helps to have someone that dangerous, a striker who can make something out of nothing," Jones said. "It makes the jobs of everyone around him a lot easier."
The Galaxy won't get much help from the crowd, which could exceed the MLS Cup record of 57,431, set in 1997 when D.C. United won at its home stadium in Washington. D.C. More than 50,000 tickets were sold by Friday morning, MLS commissioner Don Garber said.
Many fans will focus on Ruiz and Twellman, something defenders must avoid.
"The danger, and it always comes up in big games," Los Angeles defender Alexi Lalas said, "is that there's so much attention on the big-name players and the players that are scoring all the goals, that people don't think that anybody else can score and that's just not the case."
New England goalkeeper Adin Brown has four shutouts in six playoff games and is the playoff leader with 0.64 goals against per game. Los Angeles' Kevin Hartman is third at 1.57 with two shutouts in five games.
"You can never predict a high-scoring game," Schmid said. "I really think it's going to come down to some excellent individual play, a little bit of innovation, a little bit of magic at the right times."
Most likely from Ruiz or Twellman.