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Two stingiest defenses in MLS will be put to test as Jesus Ferreira, Chicharito square off

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When FC Dallas travels to face the LA Galaxy on Saturday, it will be a matchup between the two stingiest defenses in MLS in the first 10 matches of the season. Each team has allowed just seven goals in 2022.

After FCD tied for the leakiest defense in the Western Conference last season, allowing 56 goals, with LA only slightly better in conceding 54, both teams have turned things around early. FCD has kept four clean sheets, while the Galaxy have maintained one more.

So are we headed toward a scoreless draw, with both defenses locking things down and keeping the shutout?

“I don’t think so,” FC Dallas manager Nico Estévez told The Striker Texas on Thursday.

Oh. Right. It’s worth mentioning that both teams have goalscorers currently in the top 10 in this season’s golden boot race. FC Dallas forward Jesus Ferreira’s seven goals ties him for the league lead, while LA Galaxy megastar Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez sits on five.

“I think both teams are teams with quality players that try to be progressive, that are careful with the ball, while also being cautious in the other area,” Estévez continued. “Sometimes — as well good defensive work — good defensive numbers mean that you’re doing things well with the ball as well.”

Each team has so far generally been able to keep pressure off its back line by keeping possession and dictating where the game will be played, but as much as FCD has benefited from a modified press and more of a scoring threat, its back line also has taken a step forward.

The personnel is relatively unchanged, with center back Matt Hedges (the longest-tenured FCD player) partnering with Jose Martinez, who arrived before last season. Left back Marco Farfan is the new addition, acquired in a swap for Ryan Hollingshead before the year, while Ema Twumasi is holding off a charge from winter signing Nanu to maintain the starting role.

Can FC Dallas slow down LA Galaxy and Javier “Chicharito” Hernández?(Agencia Reforma)

Hedges credited the unit’s time together as a reason for the turnaround, saying a full preseason with those players has led to increased understanding of how the teammates will play.

“For a back line, that’s really important to have that consistency, have the same guys around you,” Hedges said. “You know their tendencies, you can build on that and it starts to become second nature, where they’re moving, where you’re moving. I think that’s a huge help to limit goals.”

The back line also has gotten a boost from having a healthy Hedges. A serious hip issue knocked Hedges out for a large portion of the year and had him playing through discomfort for much of the rest of the 2021 campaign. Now, he feels “fantastic” with the the coaching staff continuing to monitor his workload to decide when a player like Nkosi Tafari should step in, as he did in the midweek U.S. Open Cup match.

But it’s likely to be the veterans tasked with stopping Chicharito, who Hedges praised for his movement, Douglas Costa and the rest of the Galaxy attack. While Estévez noted that Chicharito will be a particular focus for his center backs during the individualized video study he and his staff put together before each game, he said there won’t be anything different tactically as FCD looks to shut down Mexico’s all-time leading scorer.

“We have a zonal behavior, which allows us to defend different types of players,” the manager said. “In this case, it’s true that every player has different movements, ways to find the ball, ways to find goals. He’s a player who moves really well, separating from the ball. He makes defenders doubt because he hides behind them well.

“It’s just a collective job to communicate a lot, to be together.”

The sense of unity is growing as the season progresses, with the team starting to set goals as they sense a shift in what they were able to put on the field last season and how strong they’ve become at the back this year.

“Now that we’re one of the top defenses, it’s a pride thing. We want to be one of the best defenses at the end of the year,” Hedges said. “We don’t want to give up any goals in any game. I’m sure they’re the same way.”

Two of the league’s best forwards, though, will have plenty to say about that.

The Dallas Morning News partners with The Striker Texas to bring coverage of FC Dallas and other notable Texas soccer stories to dallasnews.com. Find more soccer coverage at thestrikertexas.com.





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MLS

Pablo Ruiz Is Everywhere.  | Real Salt Lake

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Pablo Ruiz is everywhere. Whether it’s on the pitch at Rio Tinto Stadium, at the Zions Bank training center or most recently, last weekend at Stade Saputo in Montreal, Quebec.

The Real Salt Lake midfielder born in the largest city below the 45th parallel (Comodoro Rivadavia, Argentina) bossed the center of the park in the Great White North, putting on a performance against CF Montreal that earned him Major League Soccer Team of the Week honors.

In Montreal, Ruiz put on a show that’s become customary for him everytime he puts on the Claret-and-Cobalt shirt this season. The Argentine assisted in RSL’s first goal directly from a corner kick, and played a part in the build up of RSL’s second goal which would prove to be the game winner as Real Salt Lake left Canada with a 2-1 victory.

Still, the play that perhaps best defined Ruiz’s impact in Montreal, and his 2022 campaign so far, could be this chance he helped create for Sergio Cordova.

Ruiz’s constant movement, and ability to quickly transition play from defense to offense has been paramount for RSL’s success this season. While he led RSL in tackles (5) and chances created (3) at Stade Saputo last weekend, his full season stats help paint an even better picture of Ruiz’s impact. In short, Pablo Ruiz is everywhere.

In full, advanced statistics highlight the fact that Ruiz is having an incredible season all over the park. Per Fbref.com, defensively, Ruiz is among the Major League Soccer elite. Highlights include:

Among other impressive defensive stats. Offensively, Ruiz has established himself as a creative fulcrum for the Claret-and-Cobalt. Highlights include:

Together these stats help give context to the kind of all-around midfielder Ruiz has become this season. He credits his coach Pablo Masteroni for helping him reach this next level.

“Before the season started Pablo and I had a chat, and he asked me to play a little more offensively, and I just added that to my game,” said Ruiz. “Now I try to have my offensive and defensive game complimenting each other.”

Ruiz’s play has earned him plaudents across the league, and spot in the Western Conference Best XI so far this season.

You could say the only place Ruiz hasn’t been is behind the sticks in goal, but that’s actually where his career began, way before his rising trajectory as midfielder in MLS.

“I started playing at 4-years-old. I was originally a goalkeeper and then when I was eight, I decided to become an outfield player,” said Ruiz.

At 14-years-old, Ruiz entered the famous San Lorenzo de Almagro academy. San Lorenzo competes in the Argentine first division and is considered one of the ‘big five’ in Argentinian football along with Boca Juniors, River Plate, Racing Club and Independiente.

Current Atletico Madrid star Angel Correa and former Manchester City star Pablo Zabaleta were also both San Lorenzo academy products.

“It was an incredible experience,” said Ruiz. “During that time I was also selected to be on the U17 Argentinian National team. I grew a lot and would have loved to continue to play in the Argentine League. That wasn’t the case, but other opportunities were presented, like going to Chile and then coming here. But while I was in Argentina I learned a lot.”

You could go to any soccer bar in Comodoro Rivadavia and have a lengthy conversation about legendary Argentinaian players such as Lionel Messi (who Ruiz once trained with) and Maradona but the same could also be said for another midfielder, Juan Roman Riquelme.

The four time Argentinian Player of the Year, who wore the legendary kits of Boca Juniors and FC Barcelona among others, is the player who Ruiz models his game after.

“He was a player that loved to be on the ball. He also liked to create space, I was really inspired watching him play,” said Ruiz.

Riquelme, notoriously a player who put most of his energy into the offensive aspect of the game, may seem like an interesting player to inspire the defensively astute Ruiz. However as the stats have shown, Ruiz’s creative side is also starting to shine.

Confidence was a defining characteristic in Riquelme’s success and style of play and Ruiz credits it as the reason for his offensive renaissance this season. The very confidence that is helping him ascend early season MLS MVP predictions was also difficult to find.

Ruiz arrived in Salt Lake City in 2018 following a spell at Chilean club San Luis and struggled to get his career off the ground on a new continent. Ruiz played intermittently his first season at RSL and then didn’t play at all his second season before being loaned to Austrian club, FC Pinzgau Saalfelden along with RSL teammate Andrew Brody.

This point in his career is when Ruiz’s confidence hit its lowest point.

“For a moment I thought that my career may have been coming to an end,” said Ruiz. “I sincerely felt like I was declining, but I think I found myself while in Austria and I started to grow. The coach (Christian Ziege) helped me a lot, he was a person that told me to believe in myself and what I can do. He was an ex-pro player who had a successful career, and played on some big teams. He told me that if I believed in myself and had confidence in what I did, I could play anywhere I wanted.”

Anywhere turned into everywhere. Ruiz returned to Real Salt Lake a different player, and reached another level last season when he helped RSL reach the Western Conference Final.

This hasn’t been enough for Ruiz. He wants more. He credits his success not only to confidence, but also to an altered offseason plan.

“Normally what I have done since I arrived is go home during the off-season to visit my family,” said Ruiz. “I actually haven’t done that since 2020. Normally as players when the season ends we’re thinking about going on vacation, traveling, seeing our families. Not having done that the last two years, but instead chosen to stay, focus and prepare for the season has made me stronger both physically and mentally. I think doing this was key in my improvement.”

The improvement from young player struggling to adjust abroad to a confident all-around midfielder has taken time, but now Ruiz is blossoming on the field. Off the field this season, he has dealt with tragedy. Ruiz’s father died in late April of this year.

Along with such tragedy, also comes hope. Ruiz announced earlier this week that his wife Florencia is expecting their first child.

“Knowing my baby is on the way inspires me to be better and to keep growing,” said Ruiz. “It has motivated me to keep pushing and striving for bigger things, and from now on I know that the thing that I accomplish will be for the benefit of them.”

Following Real Salt Lake’s match against Vancouver Whitecaps on June 4th, Ruiz will finally return home. A deserved break after such a successful and trying start to the season.

This weekend you can see Ruiz again, as he and his teammates take on the Houston Dynamo on Saturday, May 28th. You can expect to see Ruiz continue to impact the game all over the field and if you’re searching to find him on the pitch, look everywhere.





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Loons vs. NYCFC preview: Rematch at long last

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7 p.m. vs. New York City FC · BSN, 1500-AM

Preview: These two teams meet for the first time since April 2019, when the Loons opened new $250 million Allianz Field. Ozzie Alonso scored the stadium’s first goal in a 3-3 draw. This will be only the fourth time they have played competitively and the second at Allianz; each team is 1-1-1. … Wednesday’s 2-1 U.S. Open Cup loss to third-division Union Omaha knocked the Loons out of the all-comers tournament in the round of 16. Their last MLS game was Sunday’s 2-1 victory at FC Dallas. … NYCFC’s Open Cup victory over New England makes them 10 games undefeated in all competitions. Its last loss was in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinal against Seattle. Its last league loss was against Toronto in early April. … The Loons will play without yellow card-suspended Kervin Arriaga and Michael Boxall.

Injuries: The Loons’ Hassani Dotson and Patrick Weah are out for the season; goalkeeper Tyler Miller (abdominal) and defender Romain Metanire (thigh) are out, too. Leading scorer Robin Lod (thigh) is listed as questionable, as are midfielder Wil Trapp (ribs) and strikers Luis Amarilla (foot) and Abu Danladi (thigh). NYCFC lists Anton Tinnerholm (Achilles tendon) and Kevin O’Toole (head) as out and Chris Gloster, Tayvon Gray, Maxi Moralez and Malte Amundsen as questionable, all because of “lower body” injuries.



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Alex Roldán turned down call-up to El Salvador

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Alex Roldán was conspicuously left off El Salvador’s roster for some upcoming Concacaf Nations League matches. On Friday, El Salvador coach Hugo Perez explained why.

“To close this chapter I want to say that Roldán is not coming because he is not happy with what happened before the game against Canada,” he said in Spanish. “He prefers to take some more time to digest that. But that is the reason, there is no other. Those are things that don’t have to happen, but they did. But we can’t do anything anymore, we have to turn the page and move on.”

The incident in question happened in February, when the El Salvador players released a statement saying that they intended not to play a World Cup qualifier due to a dispute over bonuses. Although they eventually relented, some hard feelings apparently persisted.

The 2-0 loss to Canada effectively eliminated El Salvador from World Cup contention and Roldán was not part of the team during the final qualifying window, nor a friendly in April.

Although Roldán only made his El Salvador debut during last summer’s Gold Cup, he’s already made 15 appearances and established himself as a team captain.

In a Twitter post, Roldán didn’t offer a ton of elaboration but did say that he “didn’t want to come back with bad thoughts and ruin relationships” and left the door open for a return in the future.

El Salvador’s loss is the Sounders’ gain, however, as Roldán will now be available for the team’s June 14 match against the Vancouver Whitecaps.





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