Danny Cruz
Courtesy of Philadelphia Union

New Union midfielder Cruz set for big return to RFK

CHESTER, Pa. – Three days after arriving in Philadelphia, brand-new Union acquisition Danny Cruz is set to return to RFK Stadium and play against the D.C. United team that just traded him for Lionard Pajoy on Thursday.

And while his emotions will certainly be high for Sunday’s contest between the Eastern Conference rivals (5 pm ET; NBCSN, live chat on MLSsoccer.com), Cruz said it’s not going to be weird to walk into the visiting locker room at RFK or face his former teammates.

The reason for that is because he already feels like he’s part of the Philadelphia Union family.

“I’m really excited about being here,” Cruz said during his introductory press conference on Friday. “I walked into the locker room and I know coach [John Hackworth] already and I know a lot of these guys. … I talked to [Michael] Lahoud a little bit and he said, ‘It’s a little bit better when you’re coming to a team where you know people, as opposed to just walking into a locker room and not knowing anybody.’

“I’m very comfortable already.”

Cruz was all smiles as he talked about his relationship with Hackworth, his coach at the U-17 level, and many of the Union players he grew up with in the residency program – guys like Sheanon Williams, Zac MacMath, Amobi Okugo and Jack McInerney.

That kind of familiarity has made the whirlwind of the past 24 hours much easier to cope with and helped him mesh well with his new teammates during his first training session with the Union on Friday.

He especially noted the ease of playing under Hackworth, who coached him at the 2007 FIFA U-17 World Cup.

“My career started with him,” Cruz said. “The dream of wanting to be a professional soccer player started with the Under-17 team. I’ve already learned so much from him. It’s my fourth year in the league and I’m still learning. For me, I’m getting better year after year but I still have things I can work on. And who better to kind of do that than someone who helped me start? I’m looking forward to it. And the transition so far has been smooth and I don’t expect it to be anything but that.”

Sitting next to Cruz on the PPL Park podium, Hackworth admitted that his strong relationship with the 22-year-old midfielder will certainly make things easier and shouldn’t disrupt the continuity in the locker room. But he also made sure to stress that knowing him wasn’t the only reason he traded for him.

“I really want to emphasize the fact that Danny has done so much to solidify himself as a guy in this league that deserves recognition and respect,” Hackworth said, adding that the fourth-year pro “has the potential to be a goalscorer for us.”

The Union manager didn’t say if Cruz would get the start against his former team but he did relay a conversation he had with D.C. United coach Ben Olsen about how Sunday’s game will be “an interesting one no matter what.”

“We wished each other all the best and we said one of us is going to be happy and one of is going to be sad at the end of the day,” Hackworth said.

He then looked over to Cruz and added, “And I’m betting I’m the happy one.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at djzeitlin@gmail.com.

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