Longform

Fish Story

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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.

After his breakout season in the MLS in 2002, European clubs came courting again--but minus the candy and flowers. The lone trip Ruiz made, to train with Wolverhampton in 2003, was essentially based on a misunderstanding. Ruiz thought that his three-month hitch had already been arranged and all he needed to do was sign. When he got there, however, the team said it would like a trial run first. Again, Ruiz was unhappy, with predictable results. He says that the club's imminent demotion from the Premiere League and other scheduling issues prevented a deal. Wolverhampton manager Dave Jones took a different stance on the team's Web site: "Carlos is one of a number of players that we take a look at during the course of a season but, unfortunately, we didn't think he could add anything extra to the squad. But I wish him the best of luck in his quest to find a club."

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Rick Kennedy