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

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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).