CHESTER, Pa. – John Hackworth has had a good relationship with Danny Cruz ever since he coached him on the US Under-17 men's national team in 2007.
But that didn’t mean the Philadelphia Union manager especially looked forward to seeing his former pupil, who has carved out a solid career in MLS, first with the Houston Dynamo from 2009-11 and then with D.C. United this season.
“He was always a pain in our side every team we played them,” Hackworth told MLSsoccer.com.
Hackworth doesn’t have to worry about that anymore, though.
On Thursday, the Union announced a deal that sent 31-year-old Colombian striker Lionard Pajoy to D.C. United for the 22-year-old Cruz, reuniting Hackworth with another one of his old U-17 players and adding one more piece to what the manager believes to be an exciting young core.
Hackworth called the deal something that made a lot of sense “in both the short term and the long term.”
“Danny Cruz has proven himself in this league, so it’s not like we’re taking a risk on this one,” Hackworth said. “He fits an immediate need and is actually very similar to Lio. And he’s a 22-year-old kid whose best days are still certainly in front of him.”
In his first year in MLS, Pajoy (right) scored a team-leading five goals for Philly. But the striker never really developed into the focal point of Philly’s 2012 attack as the coaches had hoped, and his playing time began to diminish under Hackworth.
Still, the Union manager had nothing but praise for the outgoing Colombian.
“Lio’s been great to us in many ways,” Hackworth said. “He’s been a fantastic professional in the locker room and we’ll miss him.”
Hackworth also believes Cruz will be a strong locker room presence. The Union manager remembers the midfielder always having a “big smile on his face” while playing with the U-17 team that he coached and also featured key Union players Zac MacMath and Sheanon Williams.
“He’s the kind of athlete you want to be around as a coach and a teammate,” Hackworth said. “We’re looking forward to having him around and I feel like it will be a good situation for him here.”
As for where Cruz specifically fits in to this Union squad, Hackworth said that he’ll likely be used up top in one of the wide positions in Philly’s 4-3-3 formation. The Union manager went on to call him a versatile player who “brings a tremendous work ethic, has very good speed and has very good strength.”
And he’s looking forward to seeing what he can do this Sunday at RFK Stadium (5 pm ET, NBC Sports Network, live chat on MLSsoccer.com) when the Union take on his old team in what’s now become an even more exciting Eastern Conference showdown.
“I think it will be a lot for the commentators to talk about,” Hackworth said. “We’ll see which strikers score a goal for their new team.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.