First, many have asked why the team needs another striker? It is easy to look at the fact they are 4th in scoring overall, and say they don't have problems scoring goals. However, most of our goals have been coming from one man, Chris Pontius. Salihi and Santos haven't contributed zero goals since May. Santos is currently injured and Salihi is reported to be out of shape. The front office did bring in Long Tan, but the man makes only $40K for a reason. He is a hard worker, but won't probably set the world on fire goal scoring wise. The team can ill-afford to see goal production taper off toward the end of the year, especially considering how tight the Eastern Conference is. If teams start doubling up on Pontius and shutting him down, we need a reliable striker that can be a threat.
Like many United fans when I heard that we had traded away Danny Cruz for Lionard Pajoy, I was shocked and dumbfounded. Cruz was about as close to reincarnation of Ben Olsen as we have had in a player. While he doesn't have the technical skill, he makes up for it with his work rate and grit. It is easy to see why he became quick fan favorite here in DC. He is also reported to be a great locker room guy, which added more confusion to why he was traded. However, after the shock wore off I realized that this was not nearly as bad of a trade as some have made it out to be.
So the Ben and the front office established that they need help in the forward position to keep the team competitive. Well in order to get a quality forward, Olsen needed to give up some quality in a position he could afford to do so. Unfortunately for Danny Cruz, that was out wide. Before the trade, we had basically five wide midfielders Pontius, DeLeon, Najar, Neal, and Cruz. Pontius and DeLeon both have tremendous talent and have been major contributors in the attack. Najar is an academy guy and has started to put it together for D.C. United after coming back from the Olympics. Ben and the front office would truly be foolish in giving up any of these players for Pajoy. Neal has been solid in the back-up role and can even play outside back and central midfield in a pinch. He also is 31 and has little trade value to other teams in MLS. So that leaves Cruz, who is limited in his wide midfield role, but is young and has significant value to other teams.
Now some have pointed to the age difference between Pajoy and Cruz. Unless it is a straight position for position sway, it is unfair in my mind to say that because we are trading for an older player it is a bad move. If you look at the rest of United's wide players, only one, Neal, is above the age of 30. Pontius is 25. Nick DeLeon is 22, and Najar is only 19. We have plenty of youth out wide that losing Cruz doesn't necessarily hurt us in that regard. We still have depth out wide without Cruz, and plenty of young talent across the team.
Despite the fact that I think this trade was a smart move, it is without a doubt a big risk. Pajoy has shown flashes in Philadelphia of what he is capable of. However, he quickly wore out his welcome, and many fans were glad to see him go. That doesn't mean that he won't find success in a different environment and set up. Philadelphia fans have noted that Pajoy seems to work best when he has another forward to work off of. He will undoubtedly get that in De Rosario, who has settled into that withdrawn forward role. He certainly played a role in helping both Pontius and Santos goal outbursts this year.
This blog has talked a lot about the team wanting to win now. This trade further exemplifies that goal. If Pajoy starts scoring, it will look like a stroke of genius from the front office. If he fails and no one else steps up, this trade may be looked at as the point the entire season unraveled. That is the fine line you walk with wanting to win now. If anything, this trade does put pressure on Santos and Salihi to start producing. If Pajoy does fail, I am willing to bet that both of these players will get opportunities again this season. If either start producing again, then the trade has done its job. Olsen has made it clear that he doesn't care how much you are being paid or what you did at the beginning of the season, if you aren't producing you either start or he is going to find someone that can. Olsen thinks Pajoy could be that guy, and time will tell if he is right.