Philadelphia Union forward/midfielder Danny Cruz delivered what may have been the most dramatic 88 seconds of any single player in the fourth-year franchise’s history on Saturday afternoon at PPL Park. Cruz ignited the near sell-out crowd of 18,344 not once, but twice in the match with Seattle by rifling a pair of rebounds into the Sounder’s goal at 49:20 and 50:48 of the second half with barely much more than an exhuberant goal celebration in between, ensuring a 2-2 draw and an important point. Cruz was elated. His teammates were elated. Supporters were elated. For now.
Cruz, whose Union career is only 12 games old after coming over in a trade with DC United last August, has been alternately praised for his energetic style and maligned for his occasional penchant for missed opportunities. In fact, before his brace (the soccer term for a two-goal game, newcomers) Cruz whiffed on a ball in front and received a smattering of boos. Even this blogger complained about his missing a wide-open Jack McInerney on a rush in a recent game in DC.. But secretly, I’ve been pulling for Cruz since then for two reasons. First, he gives a good effort and effort should be rewarded. Second, it doesn’t take a genius to figure-out who to mark if you’re playing the Union and until someone other than McInerney starts putting-up some consistent numbers, you have to think opponents (and perhaps the Union themselves) are beginning to see Philadelphia as somewhat of a one-trick pony.
In truth, the Union had many horses in the race on what was Kentucky Derby Day across the land, but it was Cruz who owned the match more than anyone else with 3 shots on goal and a 4th attempt that went wide. The fact that both goals came off of rebounds by Conor Casey and McInerney, the Union’s primary offensive threats so far this season, matters little. Cruz was open, in position and delivered a pair of quick, pin-point shots. The first, in particular, was a thing of beauty. While the rebound came directly to him, Cruz was at a sharp angle to goal with big Michael Gspurning filling-up the center of the net. Cruz buried his shot in the far upper corner, one of the few spots where Gspurning couldn’t get a hand on it.
The question for Union fans now: how do you feel about Danny Cruz? On a day when it seemed like every other Union player was hitting nothing but posts and cross bars, Cruz was the man, as Harry Kalas used to say. And Cruz sure looked a man shedding the weight of the Union nation from his shoulders as he belly-flopped in front of his own bench and drank in the adoration following the first goal.
For my part, I’m thrilled for the guy and am hoping this performance leads to increased confidence and more good things. It’s not like Cruz has never done anything right. After having very little impact at the end of last season, John Hackworth is now relying on Cruz weekly to carry the ball down the wing and drive it toward the net. And Cruz has a couple of nice assists to go along with this weekend’s pair of scores. He’s also taken 9 shots, although not all of them well-advised.
It’s probably worth noting that the player Cruz was traded for, Lionard Pajoy, is now remembered mainly as the guy we got to make-up for the unpopular trade of Sebastien Le Toux—and he was a bit of a dissappointment in a season that saw the Union unable to generate nearly as many offensive chances as they have lately. Pajoy, who scored a respectable 5 league goals in 20 MLS games for Philadelphia, has come down with a rather strange disorder called the “fallsies” this season which he is blaming for a drop-off in play. Interestingly, Pajoy and Cruz have both played 8 MLS matches this year. They both have 2 goals. But Pajoy has no assists.
Whether or not you are among those who’ve been frustrated with Cruz at times this season, all Union supporters have to be hoping that Saturday’s mega-performance is a sign of things to come. For the Union to remain competitive in the balanced MLS East, they need more regular contributors. For one day at sun-drenched PPL Park, Cruz was the energetic scoring star and the author of one of the best 88 seconds Union fans will likely ever witness.
MATCH NOTES: The match could’ve been a Union victory in so many ways. Not only did a minumum of 5 shots glance off posts and crossbars (it was probably more; I honestly lost count), the Union had yet another game where they were able to press the ball forward much of the time and create nice chances. And if Union goalie Zac MacMath had been able to keep track of where he was standing on the Sounder’s first goal, it might not have been a goal at all. MacMath made the save—but he was positioned about two feet inside the net at the time and the score was immediately awarded. The game also got chippy at the end with nearly as many red cards doled-out as goals. The Union’s big loss? Sheanon Williams and his big-league throw-ins. Williams was tossed after getting into a shoving match near his goal with forward Lamar Neagle who was making perhaps an over-zealous charge at Macmath.
WHERE THE DRAW LEAVES THE UNION: While Columbus lost to New York on Saturday, allowing the Union to pull into a points tie with the fifth-place Crew, that’s about where the good news ends. The Montreal Impact have a recent win and a draw, Houston managed to surprise L.A. on the road this weekend and Sporting KC did a 4-0 body slam to Chivas. The Union are still looking-up at a lot of teams with only Columbus immediately in their sights. The other four division leaders are all tied with 17 points (talk about a logjam!), although Philadelphia (3-3-3, 11 points) stills has games at hand on a couple of them. That advantage aside, things could start looking worse before they get better because practically every other Eastern Conference club that matters is in action on Wednesday night this week while the Union has to bide its time until Saturday’s road match with Chicago. Once again, the pressure will be on Philadelphia to make hay against a beatable club. A win would provide a nice kick coming home for a mid-week game on May 15th against the Galaxy.