CHESTER, Pa. — Heading into the 2011 season, the Philadelphia Union knew they needed a few more goalscorers to relieve some of the burden placed on Sébastien Le Toux and Danny Mwanga, the duo that accounted for 60 percent of the team’s goals in 2010.
Of course, they couldn’t have predicted at the time that an unheralded midseason acquisition would become their most productive scorer.
But indeed, Veljko Paunović — a 34-year-old Serbian who joined Philly in June, coming out of retirement after nearly three years away from professional soccer — has become a crucial piece to the Union attack, scoring three goals in just 626 minutes played.
That works out to an average of a goal every 210 minutes, the best average on the club. Only Mwanga (five goals) and Roger Torres (two goals) — both of whom have scored once every 244 minutes — are close to that kind of production.
“I came to help and I feel more comfortable because my teammates and people can see I’m useful to the team and that I can help,” Paunović told MLSsoccer.com. “That’s what I want to keep doing.”
Paunović’s scoring ability has certainly been valuable, especially after Carlos Ruiz — who scored six times in 1,144 minutes — was sold to Veracruz in the beginning of August.
Since then, Paunović, playing mostly in an attacking midfield role, scored twice in four games with both goals coming on the road, the first of which preserved a tie in Chicago and the second coming in Philly’s most recent game, a 2-1 loss vs. Columbus on Aug. 20, a day before Paunović turned 34.
“Veljko is a very experienced guy and he knows what it takes to play different positions,” Union manager Peter Nowak said. “Being up front, I think he’s helped us a lot. If Danny needs some help, or Seba, or Freddy [Adu], I think he’s the guy that can help us to move the ball, to move the lines and make sure we have a good possession game as well."
Paunović himself downplayed his own scoring ability, pointing to the fact that 14 different players have put the ball into the back of the net for the Union this season — a kind of balance he said is one of the team’s greatest strengths.
“For me, what is important is the team doing well,” said Paunović, who spent most of his professional career in Spain. “We are all here trying to do the same thing. We’re all in the same boat. Sometimes I’m there to score. Sometimes it’s Mwanga or Le Toux or it was Carlos.
"Whoever is there scoring the goals, it’s welcome for the team. I have to think about the team, not individual goals.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.