Major League Soccer

Sergio Ruiz putting struggles behind him to focus on Charlotte FC's expansion year

Chris Smith
Ruiz has formed a close bond with head coach and fellow Spaniard Miguel Angel Ramirez.
Ruiz has formed a close bond with head coach and fellow Spaniard Miguel Angel Ramirez. /

After months of injury, anxiety, and uncertainty, Sergio Ruiz is finally ready to tackle Charlotte FC's expansion season head-on.

The Spanish playmaker was the first-ever signing for Major League Soccer's latest club, joining from Racing Santander in July 2020 before Charlotte FC even had a name or badge.

Ruiz was then loaned to Las Palmas to keep him fit and sharp while preparations were made for their inaugural campaign - initially slated for 2021 but moved back a year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

However, that loan was cut short in November at the recommendation of specialists due to Ruiz's psychological state, with an indefinite leave of absence granted. Injuries also hampered his physical state.

But speaking to the media on Tuesday for the first time since his arrival in Charlotte, Ruiz insisted the worst is now behind him and he's looking forward to helping his new club hit the ground running in MLS.

"I feel very motivated. It's true that I spent the last three to four months at Las Palmas with injuries and anxiety," said Ruiz. "With everything about to happen with my family, moving to a new place, everything was very chaotic.

"But now I am in a good place. Physically, of course, I'm getting tired in training but I feel good in them. Mentally I feel very strong, I see that my family is happy which makes me feel much more relaxed. I'm finally here, getting on a routine, feeling calm. I needed to come here, I needed this change of scenery. I just feel really excited, ready to continue training, and hoping for a good year."

Moving your family to another continent is never an easy task and can test the mental fortitude of any individual. But Ruiz's transition to North Carolina and his battle to get back on a level playing field has certainly been helped by head coach Miguel Angel Ramirez - both a compatriot and another who has worked at Las Palmas in years gone by.

"From the very moment he knew he was going to be the coach for the Club, we've kept in touch a lot," Ruiz added. "We met up in person in Las Palmas several times as well. He's been showing me how everything works here.

"He's a been fundamental support for me. Not just sporting-wise but on a personal level, we have a great relationship. He's helped me so much, and it's a luxury being able to work with him and have that good relationship on a sporting and personal level."

The start of Charlotte FC's MLS adventure is just a month away, with their first-ever competitive fixture away at DC United on February 26. Some expansion teams like Atlanta United, LAFC, and Nashville SC hit the ground running. Others, like FC Cincinnati and Toronto FC, take a little longer to get going - while the latter is a giant of the league now, the former is yet to shine at all.

So, what is the aim for Charlotte? How do they avoid scrapping it out near the bottom of the standings and instead push for an MLS Cup Playoff berth?

"I think we have to remain aware that this is a brand new club, everything will be hard, and every player has to do their part to adapt quickly and enjoy this experience. We do this with humility and hard work," Ruiz said.

"We know if we are good, everyone will play, there will be moments for everyone. I think it's all about that humility and selflessness of whether you play or not. I'm calm knowing that I can get to a high level of play and support the team."