Kerith Gabriel: Acquring Cruz for Pajoy seems like the right move for Union

Trading Lionard Pajoy for a younger Danny Cruz seems like right move for Union.
Trading Lionard Pajoy for a younger Danny Cruz seems like right move for Union. (YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: August 17, 2012

THE UNION announced Thursday it traded forward Lionard Pajoy in exchange for D.C. United midfielder Danny Cruz. With a short turnaround, Cruz, 22, will return to D.C. Sunday as part of the 18-man Union roster at RFK Stadium.

Gotta admit, on paper, John Hackworth's first trade as the manager looks pretty smart.

The decision came swiftly, but with little shock, as, let's face it, Pajoy was less than advertised after joining the Union in February. Pajoy, expected to be the answer to the Union's scoring woes after all-time goals leader Sebastien Le Toux was traded in January, has scored only five goals.

And if you ask nearly anyone who has seen Pajoy play, there's little argument that the Colombian-born striker should have at least 20 goals by now.

So out goes Pajoy and in comes Cruz, who started 12 of United's 16 matches this season, contributing a goal and two assists. Drafted in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft by Houston after spending two seasons at UNLV, Cruz played in 51 matches, starting 27, and was an integral part of the Dynamo's run to the MLS Cup last season.

I caught up with Hackworth by phone before the announcement, and he praised Pajoy's work. It's just that when he visualized long term, Cruz seemed the better fit.

"Lio was a great asset to our program and the club for the past [6] months and we appreciated everything he did," Hackworth said. "But in Danny, there's a reason why he's been a starter wherever he goes. It's just a really good fit for us, not just in the immediate, but for us going forward."

Hackworth coached Cruz while boss of the U.S. under-17 national team. He knows Cruz will have a rapport and sense of awareness with such guys as Sheanon Williams, Amobi Okugo and Zac MacMath, all of whom were a part of that player pool.

In Cruz, the Union essentially gets the same player as Pajoy, but one with better wheels and who is about 9 years younger. If you don't believe it, check out some of Cruz' highlights on the Internet: Dude can ball.

Possibly the most important fact is that dumping Pajoy also means the Union just dumped his $180,000 base salary ($195,000 guaranteed compensation), which opens up a ton of windows going forward. I'd like to believe that, while the market might be dry, a lot of that capital is being saved for the next international transfer window. Cruz stands to collect only $106,500 in guaranteed compensation, an $88,500 savings.

Heck, that's almost three Raymon Gaddises.

I don't want to disrespect Pajoy, whom I got to know and admire as a person while he was with the Union. He's a really good guy. However in many ways, he's not the right fit. Now it's about a 48-hour wait to see whether Cruz will make his new boss a look like a genius.

Ponder this . . .

Is it just me or is the summer of soccer in Philadelphia starting to stagnate?

I'm not talking about the Union; if anything, despite its on-again, off-again approach to the 2012 MLS season, the Union has remained intriguing with an unwavering confidence that the playoffs are still in reach. Mathematically, they very much still are - even though with each loss, that window gets smaller by the minute. I know Union supporters really hope I am wrong.

But the annual World Football Challenge is getting annoying. The folks at CAA Sports, who are promoting the event, are bringing top European and Central America teams to the United States for exhibition matches, but keep inviting back the same ones.

I mean, really, unless you are a Real Madrid fan, was it really necessary to see Cristiano Ronaldo for the second year in a row?

In Year 1, the event, which featured some of the world's top teams in Manchester United, Chelsea, Real Madrid and AC Milan, drew big crowds and even bigger dollars.

But in Year 3, it's the same teams (sans Man U) pulling in smaller crowds, but still demanding big dollars.

It's not to say these summer friendlies aren't exciting to watch; they are. But watching the same clubs every year gets old. There's no variety.

For example, Real Madrid last year played the Union at Lincoln Financial Field, and it was a success. The Linc drew 57,305 for a soccer match that featured two brazen coaches, Jose Mourinho against Peter Nowak. It was intriguing. A year later, Ronaldo and Co. returned to play Celtic in what amounted to a snoozefest, despite the oohs and aahs (and some boos) every time Ronaldo touched the ball. Attendance? 34,018.

I attended the match and, to be honest, walking around the Linc amid face-painted fans with noisemakers and faux Ronaldo jerseys and having a green-and-white clad Celtic supporter spill his beer on me were actually more interesting (and interactive) than the 90 minutes of soccer portrayed on the pitch by two "world-class clubs."

Soccer should come to Philadelphia. It's the only way to continue to promote the sport, but at least bring some variety. Not only should opponents differ, but they should play more MLS teams. Celtic played to a loss at PPL Park 2 years ago and Real was here just last year.

What's the incentive for a fan who is not a rabid supporter of either team to shell out money to see the same teams again? And a family of four? By the time you bought four of even the cheapest seats ($41.50, according to Ticketmaster), parked ($20) and got food and merchandise, some poor schmo could spend upward of $500 for his family to get a glimpse of Ronaldo in the flesh.

A week's paycheck for most to see Ronaldo? He's pretty, but . . .

There is no reason why WFC organizers, who I think truly value this event, can't add a little variety to the mix when it rolls into Philly. Our fans aren't dumb, they don't want to see the same-old. So next time convince us why traveling to the Linc or to PPL Park is better than sitting on my leather couch watching my high-def TV.

Contact Kerith Gabriel at Follow him on Twitter @sprtswtr.


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