Pablo Ruiz is everywhere. Whether it’s on the pitch at Rio Tinto Stadium, at the Zions Bank training center or most recently, last weekend at Stade Saputo in Montreal, Quebec.
The Real Salt Lake midfielder born in the largest city below the 45th parallel (Comodoro Rivadavia, Argentina) bossed the center of the park in the Great White North, putting on a performance against CF Montreal that earned him Major League Soccer Team of the Week honors.
In Montreal, Ruiz put on a show that’s become customary for him everytime he puts on the Claret-and-Cobalt shirt this season. The Argentine assisted in RSL’s first goal directly from a corner kick, and played a part in the build up of RSL’s second goal which would prove to be the game winner as Real Salt Lake left Canada with a 2-1 victory.
Still, the play that perhaps best defined Ruiz’s impact in Montreal, and his 2022 campaign so far, could be this chance he helped create for Sergio Cordova.
Ruiz’s constant movement, and ability to quickly transition play from defense to offense has been paramount for RSL’s success this season. While he led RSL in tackles (5) and chances created (3) at Stade Saputo last weekend, his full season stats help paint an even better picture of Ruiz’s impact. In short, Pablo Ruiz is everywhere.
In full, advanced statistics highlight the fact that Ruiz is having an incredible season all over the park. Per Fbref.com, defensively, Ruiz is among the Major League Soccer elite. As of May 27th, highlights include:
Among other impressive defensive stats. Offensively, Ruiz has established himself as a creative fulcrum for the Claret-and-Cobalt. As of May 27th, highlights include:
Together these stats help give context to the kind of all-around midfielder Ruiz has become this season. He credits his coach Pablo Masteroni for helping him reach this next level.
“Before the season started Pablo and I had a chat, and he asked me to play a little more offensively, and I just added that to my game,” said Ruiz. “Now I try to have my offensive and defensive game complimenting each other.”
Ruiz’s play has earned him plaudents across the league, and spot in the Western Conference Best XI so far this season.
You could say the only place Ruiz hasn’t been is behind the sticks in goal, but that’s actually where his career began, way before his rising trajectory as a midfielder in MLS.
“I started playing at 4-years-old. I was originally a goalkeeper and then when I was eight, I decided to become an outfield player,” said Ruiz.
At 14-years-old, Ruiz entered the famous San Lorenzo de Almagro academy. San Lorenzo competes in the Argentine first division and is considered one of the 'big five' in Argentinian football along with Boca Juniors, River Plate, Racing Club and Independiente.
Current Atletico Madrid star Angel Correa and former Manchester City star Pablo Zabaleta were also both San Lorenzo academy products.
“It was an incredible experience,” said Ruiz. “During that time I was also selected to be on the U17 Argentinian National team. I grew a lot and would have loved to continue to play in the Argentine League. That wasn’t the case, but other opportunities were presented, like going to Chile and then coming here. But while I was in Argentina I learned a lot.”
You walk into any barrio in Comodoro Rivadavia and have a lengthy conversation about legendary Argentinian players such as Lionel Messi (who Ruiz once trained with) and Maradona but the same could also be said for another midfielder, Juan Roman Riquelme.
The four time Argentinian Player of the Year, who wore the legendary kits of Boca Juniors and FC Barcelona among others, is the player who Ruiz models his game after.
“He was a player that loved to be on the ball. He also liked to create space, I was really inspired watching him play,” said Ruiz.
Riquelme, a player who notoriously put most of his energy into the offensive aspects of the game, may seem like an interesting player to inspire the defensively astute Ruiz. However as the stats have shown, Ruiz’s creative side is also starting to shine.
Confidence was a defining characteristic in Riquelme’s success and style of play and Ruiz credits it as the reason for his offensive renaissance this season. The very confidence that is helping him ascend early season MLS MVP prediction lists was also difficult to find.
Ruiz arrived in Salt Lake City in 2018 following a spell at Chilean club San Luis and struggled to get his career off the ground on a new continent. Ruiz played intermittently his first season at RSL and then didn’t play at all his second season before being loaned to Austrian club, FC Pinzgau Saalfelden along with RSL teammate Andrew Brody.
This point in his career is when Ruiz’s confidence hit its lowest point.
“For a moment I thought that my career may have been coming to an end,” said Ruiz. “I sincerely felt like I was declining, but I think I found myself while in Austria and I started to grow. The coach (Christian Ziege) helped me a lot, he was a person that told me to believe in myself and what I can do. He was an ex-pro player who had a successful career, and played on some big teams. He told me that if I believed in myself and had confidence in what I did, I could play anywhere I wanted.”
Anywhere turned into everywhere. Ruiz returned to Real Salt Lake a different player, and reached another level last season when he helped RSL reach the Western Conference Final.
This hasn’t been enough for Ruiz. He wants more. He credits his success not only to confidence, but also to an altered offseason plan.
“Normally what I have done since I arrived is go home during the off-season to visit my family,” said Ruiz. “I actually haven’t done that since 2020. Normally as players when the season ends we’re thinking about going on vacation, traveling, seeing our families. Not having done that the last two years, but instead chosen to stay, focus and prepare for the season has made me stronger both physically and mentally. I think doing this was key in my improvement.”
The improvement from young player struggling to adjust abroad to a confident all-around midfielder has taken time, but now Ruiz is blossoming on the field. Off the field this season, he has dealt with tragedy. Ruiz’s father died in late April of this year.
Along with such tragedy, also comes hope. Ruiz announced earlier this week that his wife Florencia is expecting their first child.
“Knowing my baby is on the way inspires me to be better and to keep growing,” said Ruiz. “It has motivated me to keep pushing and striving for bigger things, and from now on I know that the thing that I accomplish will be for the benefit of them.”
Following Real Salt Lake’s match against Vancouver Whitecaps on June 4th, Ruiz will finally return home. A deserved break after such a successful and trying start to the season.
This weekend you can see Ruiz again, as he and his teammates take on the Houston Dynamo on Saturday, May 28th. You can expect to see Ruiz continue to impact the game all over the field and if you’re searching to find him on the pitch, look everywhere.