Had Carlos Ruiz’s mother gotten him a baseball bat for Christmas in 1984, this would be a very different story.
Lucky for Guatemala and Major League Soccer, a five-year-old Carlos Ruiz was given a soccer ball, and the rest was history— literally.
Ruiz will go down in MLS history as one of the best forwards that ever played the game. The talented goalscorer won an MLS Cup with the LA Galaxy in 2002, was named MLS Cup MVP as well as MLS MVP, netting 24 goals on the season. In 2003, Ruiz was named MLS All-Star MVP and was also that year’s joint-leading scorer with 17 goals. The Guatemalan international is 9th all-time in goals scored and holds the record to date for most goals scored in MLS Playoffs with 16. Carlos is also the all-time leading scorer for the Guatemalan National Team, with 55 goals in 104 appearances.
This list of accolades is truly impressive. But, to understand how Carlos got to this point, one would have to go back to where it all started—Guatemala.
“It was amazing actually,” recalled Ruiz. “I started playing professionally when I was 16-years-old. It was great, because I played for the best team in my country, and I was still having fun playing soccer.”
At age 16, Ruiz’s coach called him up from the reserves of C.S.D. Municipal.
“The coach called me and said you’re going to play on Saturday,” said Ruiz. “So, I was a little bit scared, but I was actually just happy to play. In that moment, I was just thinking ‘I want to be happy playing soccer with all these stars around me.’ We won 1-0, and I scored the goal.”
Most 16-year-olds in the U.S. are staring at the clock on the wall of their classrooms, waiting for that final bell to ring so they can hit the pitch, ball field, court or mall with their friends. Carlos Ruiz was a professional soccer player for the best club in his country.
“I grew up so fast, with soccer you grow up so fast,” explained Ruiz. “When I was 19-years-old, I was the player for the national team. I was the one who everyone looked to, that one player was Carlos Ruiz. From 16-19 years old, I grew up so fast.”
By the time Carlos was 21, he already played in Greece for Gianna and returned to Municipal. After scoring 69 goals in his seven years with Municipal, Ruiz received a call from the then-coach of the LA Galaxy, Sigi Schmid.
“Sigi was telling me to come to Major League Soccer,” recalled Ruiz, “and I was saying no because Major League Soccer at that moment was just for the players who were old and came to the League to retire.”
Ruiz was not so keen on this idea.
“I told him, ‘You know, I’m 21-years-old, I think I can stay in Europe and try to play here.’ But he said, ‘I’m going to help you. You’re going to come to one of the best teams in Major League Soccer, the LA Galaxy.’”
With Ruiz’s hesitation, logic would say he might regret coming to MLS, even with the storied career he created for himself. But when asked, he said he doesn’t look back.
“I don’t think like that,” answered Ruiz. “I think everything happens for a reason. I learned a lot when I came to MLS. Everything in soccer is learned, and I am happy with the career I built in Major League Soccer.”
While Carlos’ career took him all over the world, a few things stayed constant.
First, no matter the country, his name is “Fish.”
“In Guatemala, the fans sing all the time, and they need short names to make the rhythm of the music,” explained El Pescadito. “They usually use nicknames like animals. A couple of teammates, they call them frog or snake. I was the lucky one with fish, little fish.”
Second, Fish will do anything to win.
“I try to win every game,” Carlos said simply. “I use all the tools I learn, and I have to win the game. Sometimes the players don’t like me because I take advantage of plays on the field, but it is the way it is. I like to win, and I’m going to do everything I can to win.”
Third, he tries to be a great teammate.
“I try to teach them [younger players] on the field what I learn in soccer,” said Carlos. “I hope in the future, they can say, ‘thank you to Carlos Ruiz.’ I always try to help.”
Fourth, he helps off the field as well.
“Outside of the field, I help poor people in Guatemala, and I try to go to the hospitals and different institutions in my country to try to help the kids,” explained Ruiz. “We have a great foundation in my country, and we’re trying to help people.”
Carlos has now played professionally for 17 years. Through all the ups and downs, winning and losing, struggles and successes, he, and soccer fans everywhere, can look back to that wonderful Christmas in 1984 and thank his mom for choosing the perfect gift.
“When I was five-years-old, my mom gave me for Christmas a soccer ball. And, I think that started my love for this sport.”