Kerith Gabriel: No Pajoy for the offense

Posted: April 27, 2012

“What [more] we need to do offensively is the question and it’s what we are working on.”

— Union manager Peter Nowak

Despite the 8 x 24 dimensions of a goal clearly favoring the shooter, soccer by design, was never meant to be a goal-scoring extravaganza.

Soccer aficionados will tell you that some of the best matches they’ve ever seen were scoreless draws. But in those hard-fought matches, getting one past the goalkeeper has always coincided with euphoria from the crowd. It’s why the DOOP hymn has become a requirement at Union games (and now apparently at Flyers games, too).

The Union hasn’t been able to provide that feeling to its faithful this season. Not often, anyway. The club has once again relied on its defensive stand to stay within the thick of the Eastern Conference race, while keeping fans chewing on their fingernails.

In the offseason, the coaching staff said it acquired the answer to the club’s scoring woes — after letting its top goalscorer go for cash to secure players who were promised long-term contracts. In came Lionard Pajoy, a proven scorer in his native Colombia and a player who entered with the confidence, and possibly even arrogance, you want to see in a goalscorer.

“As a forward one’s principal job is to always score,” Pajoy said. “I believe this is why one works. This is why I came to this team to help them [with] scoring because that is my job and I know how to do it.”

Sounds great — except Pajoy is not scoring. Pajoy has one in six starts and his lack of production is hurting the team. You ask why do I place much of the blame on Pajoy and not Nowak? Because Pajoy is out there. He knows his strengths and if the team isn’t playing to them he needs to speak up. But from the players I have spoken with Pajoy doesn’t say much (though in his defense Pajoy is still learning English). But if you listen to Nowak, it appears he thinks at times Pajoy can also be one-dimensional.

“It’s not only about checking for the ball all the time, you have to keep the defenders guessing,” Nowak said at his weekly news conference Wednesday. “Sometimes it’s about putting the ball over the top and spreading the defense. It’s not always short-short [when passing the ball], but short-long, so defenders can’t guess where he’s always going to be.”

A true statement, but here’s the thing. Pajoy is not a very fast forward and most of his runs into the box are vertical, so playing balls over the top behind the defender don’t necessarily bode well for a player like that. When he has been at his best is with balls played to his feet, with space to turn and beat defenders. Or even laying quick wall passes (one-two) balls to create space. The Union tried dinking balls over the top to Pajoy (specifically in the Columbus match) to little avail.

“In some capacity, we stretch too much and [now you have Pajoy] battling two, three defenders, and this is tough to do,” continued Nowak. “So far he is doing a good job; it’s a combination of things that make him successful, and he’s a hard worker, but he needs to score goals.”

I believe Pajoy, not Gabriel Gomez, not Freddy Adu and not Danny Mwanga just yet, is the key to unlocking the goal-scoring floodgates. But it has to be equal parts of Pajoy communicating where he wants the ball just as much as his teammates putting it there for him.

This needs to happen soon so the River End can release the white smoke and hear their DOOP diddy not just when the Flyers are on the ice.

All-Star digs

Officials from MLS were in Philadelphia Wednesday looking at logistics for pregame events leading up to the July 25 All-Star Game vs. Chelsea at PPL Park. Was told the group spent a lot of time in Rittenhouse Square.

Benefit for Brad

The Sons of Ben are holding a FIFA12 tournament for Brad Youtz, one of the group’s founding fathers who lost his family home in a fire last month.

The event is set for Friday, May 4 at 7 p.m. Along with the tournament, inside the club at PPL Park, the night will feature raffles of various gift certificates, autographed uniforms and the like. The cost is $35 at the door and $45 to enter the tournament. Winner receives an autographed Union kit signed by the team. For more info, log onto www.playforbrad.wufoo.com/forms/z7x3x5

By the numbers

2-1-1: San Jose’s record all-time against the Union.

3: The number of target strikers who have since departed from the Union since Chris Wondolowski became San Jose’s main man. (Alejandro Moreno, Carlos Ruiz and Sebastien Le Toux)

20: The number of games Union captain Danny Califf played in a brief stint with San Jose (2005) appearing in all 20 matches and scoring two goals.

Odds and endlines

Danny Califf participated in full practice Wednesday and says he’s ready to play Saturday. When asked if he thinks he’ll return to Nowak’s starting 11, Califf quipped, “Who knows?” … Roger Torres was walking without the aid of a crutch or a cane but did wear a brace under his pants during a dinner the team hosted at Fogo de Chao (13th and Chestnut) on Tuesday to benefit Asperger’s Syndrome. Torres said rehab is going well. Torres is out 6-8 weeks with ligament damage in his left knee. n

Contact Kerith Gabriel at gabrielk@phillynews.com

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