Nick DeLeon played a vital role in D.C. United's win over FC Dallas
From Arizona to the UNLV Rebels, Nick DeLeon and Danny Cruz have known each other for a long time.
Both born in 1990, the two wingers have crossed paths numerous times during their soccer careers, but never so noticeably as on Friday night for D.C. United. Never before have they made such a big impact together on such a big stage. They each started and they each scored as United topped FC Dallas 4-1.
"I knew he was gonna get to the end line," Cruz told me in the locker room following the win on Friday when describing the third goal of the match, in which Cruz finished off DeLeon's cross. "I've played with him a long time now and after scoring the goal it was kind of surreal. We were obviously hugging each other and it was something we've been waiting for for a long time. Hopefully there's more of that to come and it was just great service and I just had to do the rest."
By design, Cruz and DeLeon's lockers are adjacent in the locker room at RFK Stadium. Together every step of the way. They started the season together on the bench, and now they're together in the starting 11.
But for how long?
"You know we were obviously really excited for the game," Cruz said, "and just wanted to do what we could to help the team. And I think we both know that there are four great players that can play our positions and we're happy to be out there to contribute.
They contributed early and often, and DeLeon told us after the match why it was so important to get the win. "We knew it coming into today that we had to make a statement, and a 4-1 result... I'd say that's a pretty good statement to the rest of the league. We're not some team that you can just run over. Not no more."
Cruz and DeLeon played a vital role in United's win on Friday night, and it wasn't just the goal scoring. The work rate from both of them was very high on both sides of the ball, and it had to be. They were the first up the field when United was attacking, and quick to retreat and mark up when the team was defending.
The role fits Cruz and DeLeon quite nicely. It might not look quite as good on Chris Pontius, who isn't as well known for his defending as Cruz is, or as DeLeon has displayed so far.
The role would fit Andy Najar too though (as well as any other role on the team besides goalkeeper, although I wouldn't necessarily want to shoot on him either). Najar probably won't start on Saturday against the Seattle Sounders as he has yet to return to United from Olympic Qualifying duty with Honduras. And anyway, why mess with a good thing? But when he does return to the starting lineup as soon as one week later, the team won't necessarily have to change its formation or attacking style. Najar can handle the extra duties.
Even if he's not from Arizona.
(For more of my conversation with Cruz, as well as conversations with Dwayne De Rosario, Maicon Santos, and Daniel Woolard, and some in-depth tactical analysis, check out the third episode of Filibuster, our podcast.)