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Galaxy's Leonardo scores his first goal in MLS

He heads home a free kick from David Beckham for a 1-0 victory over the Philadelphia Union.

April 02, 2011|By Grahame L. Jones

Nine years have not changed him that much.

He still has that shock of dark hair, that unshaven jaw, those eyes that flash this way and that. Always aware, always ready. In short, the look of a predator.

That's what Carlos Ruiz was back in the day when he was the most dangerous striker in Major League Soccer. In 2002, he led the Galaxy to the league championship, picking up the MLS scoring title and most-valuable-player honors at the same time.

Nine years ago.

On Saturday night, Ruiz was back in Los Angeles, or at least in Carson, this time wearing the dark blue No. 20 uniform of the Philadelphia Union.

He was still the same player, still compact, still fit, still flirting with the offside line, still showing a turn of pace, still combative and hungry.

But now the goals come from elsewhere.

On Saturday night, they came not from Guatemala's Ruiz but from Brazil's Leonardo, who headed home a David Beckham free kick that launched a 1-0 Galaxy victory.

They almost came, too, from another Brazilian, Juninho, who was all of 13 when Ruiz was doing his thing for the Galaxy. Fed the perfect pass by Landon Donovan, Juninho hammered a second-half shot against the crossbar that was inches away from making it 2-0.

They almost came, too, from Colombia's Juan Pablo Angel, who narrowly missed connecting with a Beckham free kick and later headed a Donovan cross just wide of the left post.

Had Angel scored, it might have been a bittersweet moment for his former Colombia national team partner, the Union's 39-year-old goalkeeper, Faryd Mondragon. Angel is the godfather to Mondragon's eldest son, Luca.

As for Ruiz, who was playing in a stadium not yet built in 2002, his contribution to the game was more that of a decoy than an out-and-out goal poacher.

He managed no shots on goal but was involved in an incident that caused the Galaxy to play one man down for the last 34 minutes of regulation.

Ruiz was knocked down from behind by Chris Birchall, who was given an immediate red card by referee Paul Ward, who seemed to have only a tenuous hold on the game all evening and relied on cards to keep control.

It was Leonardo's goal, however, and not the spate of 10 cards, that the Home Depot Center crowd of 24,998 will remember.

A foul by Philadelphia, which was unbeaten coming into the match, allowed Beckham the chance at a free kick from about 33 yards out in the 33rd minute.

He floated the ball toward the far post and Leonardo leaped to head it into the net. It was his first MLS goal.

After the final whistle, Donovan, Beckham and even Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena made a point of walking over and exchanging greetings with one Philadelphia player — Ruiz.

grahame.jones@latimes.com

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