Photo: Michael Long
Editor’s note: At the end of the first two Philadelphia Union seasons, we posted a series of end of the season reviews of every Union player. Over the next several weeks PSP continues with a review of the 2012 season.
Acquired in August in a swap with DC United that saw under-performing striker Lionard Pajoy head the other way, Danny Cruz can be considered the first real John Hackworth signing, and perhaps an odd acquisition at that. Pajoy’s wastefulness in front of goal has been noted many times on this site, but on a team so short of direct striking options, the acquisition of a gritty midfielder was not seen as a direct way to address the Union’s dreadful goal scoring form.
Nevertheless, if you’re a Philadelphia sports fan, Danny Cruz is a tough guy not to like. He wears his heart on his sleeve, is more hustle than finesse, and leaves everything he has on the field every time he steps out. He also seemed to step into a somewhat fractured locker room with a casual attitude and a general likability that helped a young team come together as the tough season wore on.
Cruz’s arrival saw him thrown head first into John Hackworth’s 4-3-3 as part of the front three, a new position for him. Cruz did not adapt immediately and the team went on to only score 3 goals in 6 games after his arrival (going winless in that time). Shortly after that, Cruz was injured in what looked like a potentially serious ankle problem when the Union won in Chicago. But it turned out not to be as bad as first thought, and the winger only missed the second half of the Fire game and the following game in New England. After returning to the lineup for the final three matches, and with the Union pretty much just playing out the string, it’s hard to evaluate Cruz’s performance and ability to make an impact.
In a surprising 3-1 victory in Chicago on a day when the Fire could have clinched a playoff berth, Cruz torched Dan Gargan on the right wing for 45 minutes before being injured. His fine outside of the boot flick to Jack McInerney was a thing of beauty and led to the young striker scoring. Cruz also struck a tidy PK for his only goal of the season in the loss to Columbus in late September.
As the final few games of the season played out, you’d be hard pressed to find many Union players who put in good 90-minute efforts. But Cruz looked a lost player in the 3-1 loss at Houston. His runs were ill-timed, and he seemed on a different page completely from the rest of the Union attack. Maybe he was still worried about the knock he picked up in Chicago two games before, but given a starting nod, the winger could not find the game in Texas.
Work rate. Hustle. Passion. You know what you get when you put Cruz on the pitch: He will chase the lost causes. He will make the thankless runs to clear space. He’ll chase back to help out his defenders. Technical prowess is not the strength of Cruz (see below), but he closes the gap in his game with heart and determination.
What you won’t get from Cruz is natural technical ability. His first touch often strays away from him. His passing and crossing are not as precise as other wingers. He occasionally will make a run off the ball that not even the mind of Michael Farfan can predict. But Cruz is still learning the sport — learning the nuance, technical side, and complex strategy of the professional game. His willingness to still be a student is a positive going forward for Philadelphia.
There is still time for the young Cruz to make his mark on the MLS and with the Union. He’s only 22, and at only a few points in his career has he been given a solid enough run of games to really evaluate what he has to offer. When he was acquired, Union boss John Hackworth said of him, “I think [Cruz will] be a real asset to us—both now and for years to come.” As the first player actually brought in by the Union coach, look for the team to, if nothing else, give Cruz a legitimate chance to be in the starting XI next season.
Playing as a winger, he adds an element to the Union attack which has been underutilized in Philadelphia’s first three seasons. Jack McInerney has shown himself to be a very good header of the ball, even as a small forward. But if the Union are able to add a more aerial threat to their attack, Cruz’ positive play down the wing could certainly increase the amount of crosses we see from the team next season.
While we saw a lot of Cruz at the end of the season, it is worth noting he only featured in 12 games for the Union. Given an off-season to get to know his teammates better and a preseason in Florida to work out with the team in a purely training based situation can only good for Cruz. He immediately seemed to establish a good rapport in the locker room, and with some time it can be hoped that will develop into chemistry on the pitch.
Stat chart legend:
POS: Position; GP: Games Played; GS: Games Started; MINS: Minutes; PA: Passes Attempted; PC: Passes Completed; P%: Passing Accuracy Percentage; G: Goals; A: Assists; SOG: Shots on Goal; SOG/S%: Percentage of Shots that are on Goal; G/SOG%: Percentage of Shots on Goal Converted; SC%: Scoring Percentage; G/90min: Goals per 90 minutes; Hm G: Home Goals; Rd G: Road Goals; FC: Fouls Committed; FS: Fouls Suffered; YC: Yellow Cards; RC: Red Cards