(Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz)
Editor’s note: At the end of the 2010 season, we posted a series of “Raves” about our favorite Philadelphia players. They need not be the team’s best players, but they’re guys and gals we like. Over the next two weeks, we continue the series again with some of the PSP writers’ and contributors’ favorite players of 2011.
On a team full of young guns, Veljko Paunovic’s age, 34, can be considered an asset. On a team full of relatively new professionals, his world travels and injury struggles are invaluable experience that some easily overlook. Why do fans and foes alike tend to look past his resume and experience? Because he’s not done yet—he’s still out on the field adding to his legacy.
Some fans scoffed at bringing in a wiry striker past his prime to pull strings in the midfield. Others looked at his almost three years out of the outdoor game rehabbing from injury and figured he would probably spend the remainder of the season on the training table. Coming in at midseason, few Union supporters really knew what to expect from the former Serbian international some would come to call “Paun Star,” but Paunovic knew from the outset what he would embody while wearing the Union blues—teamwork and professionalism.
Integrated into the team through a series of reserve league appearances, Paunovic always seemed willing to do what was asked of him. Paun found his name on the lineup sheet 16 times after signing in June 2011, but not always in the same spot. Without complaint and with considerable success, he saw time both as a forward and as an attacking midfielder, contributing 3 goals (including that cracking goal against Chicago and one of only two headed goals by the Union in 2011) and 3 assists. When the Union were forced to redefine their attacking identity after the departure of Carlos Ruiz, Paunovic remained patient, dedicated, and willing to play his role. Though not always fruitful, his hard work and passing rarely drew complaints from me.
Role players rarely get the shout out they deserve. Their contributions, unless flashy or clutch, just don’t always register with those watching the game. Paunovic’s selfless play fits well into a team concept but requires others to assert themselves around him. When the Union struggled over the summer, some described Paunovic as “invisible” or “ineffective.” But when Le Toux found his stride and Michael Farfan began to dazzle the fans with his footwork down the stretch, Paunovic was in the background linking together the passes, more or less where he had been most of the summer.
Unsure of what to expect in June, I have been pleasantly surprised by the Union’s midseason acquisition. Whether it was the colorful nicknames, the monthly jersey giveaways or the hard working attitude, I am happy that Paunovic has become a part of the Union family. Fans grew so attached to Paun that more than a few were arguing that he make it on the Expansion Draft protected list to ensure his presence next season. While he did not make my mock list, I am very happy that he was passed over by the Impact and that the Union have the option to keep him around heading into next season.
The role player still has a role to play.