By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Vasquez has converted his publication into something of a Ruiz watchdog. It was his site that first alerted the public to a paternity suit filed against Ruiz last summer by a California woman. That suit was dismissed last week, though neither Ruiz nor his lawyer in Los Angeles would discuss whether there had been a settlement. "In fact, we put the [paternity] story aside," Vasquez says, "because when he was here in California at the hearing, he said that he loved his family and wanted to devote himself to that--but we didn't know that he wasn't providing food for his children."
Mendez has never claimed she was starving, but Vasquez's exaggeration could be chalked up to simple righteous indignation. After all, here is Guatemala's principal role model refusing to provide his wife and two young daughters with the basic necessities of life. And there is a precedent, the 2003 charge of domestic violence. The problem is, in both cases there is ample room for doubt.
Gabriela Barrios, sports editor for Prensa Libre, Guatemala's largest daily newspaper, says that her paper followed up on Vasquez's story and found it was full of holes. "His wife comes out and says she doesn't have money to pay for electricity--but the story doesn't say that she lives in the most expensive housing area in the country," Barrios says. "She also says she is two months behind paying for the [daughters'] school--but she doesn't say that he took them all, her included, to Disney World at New Year's." Barrios says Ruiz's lawyers have receipts for ample deposits made to Mendez's account. "What happened was that he gave her the money and she spent it on something else." Prensa Libre didn't publish a story.
Barrios wishes she could say the same about the incident in 2003. "When there was a formal charge by the wife, it was covered as news, but two days later she dropped the charge and we journalists wound up looking ridiculous. We took a very moral stance supporting all abused women, and then two days later she dropped the charge after she came to a financial agreement."
Mendez says she dropped the charge because the couple reconciled. "He only hit me once, but he never did it again because I filed charges," Mendez says. "I went to the police and everything. But he has been very aggressive to me verbally. There has been a lot of psychological abuse."
At best, the situation is a very long, very public disintegration of a bad marriage. "I normally don't like to talk about my personal life," Ruiz says, his voice almost too low to hear. "It's been very painful for me and for my family; it's very embarrassing, because what happened didn't have to happen, but that's life." But if Mendez's allegations are true, they may reflect Ruiz's struggle to deal with the scrutiny and expectations that came with his sudden fame.
In Ruiz's debut season with Municipal, it quickly became clear that he was a player unlike any Guatemala had ever seen. Claudio Villa, son of Ernesto Villa, longtime Municipal president, remembers how not long into Ruiz's first season, he scored on a bicycle kick, a staggeringly difficult move to pull off with any kind of accuracy. "When do you see a 17-year-old kid do that?" Villa asks. "He's scored a lot of goals like that, and you have a lot of players, forwards, who go their whole careers without scoring like that." In fact, Ruiz has made the chilena, as it's known in Latin America, his signature move. One such effort for FC Dallas, a 2005 score against D.C. United, was recently voted the MLS "Goal of the Decade." After his chilena for Municipal, Ruiz went from being a promising talent to a superstar virtually overnight.
"It was tough to get used to," he says. "You'd walk in the street and everybody was like, 'Oh, there's El Pescado.' Everybody knows who you are, when before nobody did. If you don't have people around you that are telling you to calm down and relax, it's really tough." Ruiz's temperamental play began to earn him an international jeering section, something that came as a shock when he debuted with the national team in the run-up to the 2002 World Cup. "I didn't know what people were saying about me outside of soccer," he says. "I didn't read about it. When people came and stared at me and shouted abuse at me, it was really tough to deal with."
In essence, Ruiz's cloistered existence in the welcoming embrace of Municipal hadn't prepared him for the real world. "What it is is that I never lost," he says. "While I was in Guatemala, I always won. With Municipal we always won everything, and when I played as a kid it was the same thing--we won everything."
The next logical step for Ruiz was to go to Europe, but though his talent may have been up to the task, he wasn't prepared mentally. He made a good impression with a team in Oslo in 2000 but was secretly relieved when an international slot wasn't available. "Nobody spoke Spanish, the culture is different, the food is different," he says. "I wanted to go back to Guatemala--I was too young." In Greece later that year he was less intimidated but again let frustration take over.