In a move that caught just about everyone by surprise, D.C. United traded high-energy wide man Danny Cruz to the Philadelphia Union. In exchange, United acquired Colombian forward Lionard Pajoy and an international roster spot. The international roster spot was necessary for United to complete the deal, as the recent signing of Raphael Augusto took up the last available such slot.
How out-of-the-blue is this? While Pajoy had been rumored to be on the trading block earlier in the morning, no one - including Cruz himself - was expecting such a move. It must be said that Cruz had fallen down the depth chart at right midfield to to a combination of an injury, the presence of Andy Najar, and the recent play of Nick DeLeon coming across from his more preferred left midfield spot.
However, Cruz was considered one of the best "locker room guys" on a tight-knit squad, and following the Olympics Najar had drawn some interest from European clubs. On a team that can be a bit soft defensively, Cruz adds bite and fearlessness that few in MLS can match.
In Pajoy, United have brought in a bit of an enigma. At 31, Pajoy has target forward size (6'1", 185 lbs), respectable skill on the ball, and works hard enough off the ball. He also has experience in the Copa Libertadores, which is second only to the UEFA Champions League in terms of international club competitions. He also arrives as the Union's top scorer in 2012, with 5 goals to go with 2 assists.
However, Pajoy's resume and performance have left some observers (including yours truly) skeptical. Consider MLSsoccer's headline: "Philadelphia deal struggling Pajoy to DC United for Cruz." Pajoy was more or less a fixture for Peter Nowak, but since the former United coach was fired he has become more of a sometimes starter/oft-used substitute as John Hackworth has preferred Jack McInerney centrally, leaving Pajoy to start only when the Union would go with a 433.
The knock on Pajoy is that his finishing isn't the best. Whether that's simply down to confidence or ability is hard to say; many players have needed half a season or so to figure MLS out, and struggling with that can in turn translate to problems with belief for strikers. Hackworth has seemed to be able to get slightly more out of him than Nowak did, particularly when playing him as a left forward in a 433.
Pajoy likes to drift wide, a problem MLS fans have seen before with Kenny Cooper whenever Thierry Henry isn't around. To get ahead of Maicon Santos, Hamdi Salihi, and Long Tan as a striker, Pajoy will have to mostly stay in the middle of the field and will have to make an impact while doing so. Drifting left would potentially clog up the same side of the field that Chris Pontius works his magic on.
On the plus side, two of his goals came against the hated New York Red Bulls, so at least he already knows one United tradition.
Both Pajoy and Cruz will be available for their new teams this weekend...when United plays the Union at RFK. Looks like both players will have a chance to prove their old team wrong immediately. Philadelphia may have the luxury of easing Cruz into a new system, but with Santos (toe injury) and Salihi (viral infection) having missed last weekend's loss in Kansas City, Pajoy might get tossed into the deep end.