There were a couple of times during last weekend’s Eastern Conference Championship first leg between D.C. United and the Houston Dynamo when the cameras trained in on Philadelphia Union midfielder Danny Cruz, who watched the game from the BBVA Compass Stadium stands.
Smiling for those cameras wasn’t easy.
“It was pretty tough to sit through it,” Cruz told MLSsoccer.com by phone this week. “I know they showed me on the jumbotron and on NBC Sports a couple of times and there really wasn’t that much emotion for me.”
The reason for that was because Cruz was watching two organizations he used to be a part of – both during the past year no less. And while happy for his old teammates – especially longtime friend Nick DeLeon, who scored the game’s first goal for D.C. United – it was still painful to be in the stands for a playoff game, rather than on the field.
“Less than 12 months ago, I was playing in an MLS Cup with the team in orange and three months ago, I was a big part of the D.C. United team,” said Cruz, who stressed he’s now very glad to be on the Union. “It’s kind of ironic [both teams are playing each other in the playoffs] and it’s not something I’m obviously enjoying, that’s for sure. But I am happy for both coaches and my old teammates.”
One thing that Cruz didn’t have mixed emotions about was the warm reception he got from the Houston fans, many of who stopped him to ask for autographs and pictures.
Cruz played his first three MLS seasons in Houston from 2009-11 before being traded to D.C. United in January, and still has many strong ties to the area and the team. And he’s not surprised Dominic Kinnear has the Dynamo on the brink of their second straight MLS Cup appearance.
“He knows how to get his players to be ready for this part of the year,” said Cruz, who’s considering going to D.C. for the second leg of the Conference Championship on Sunday. “It seems like every single time this time of year comes, the guys are playing for him. That’s really what you need.”
What does his current team need to get to the same stage?
Cruz – who was traded from D.C. to Philly in August in exchange for Lionard Pajoy – pointed to the fact that the Union beat Houston by a pair of goals in September as one reason why he believes he’ll be participating in the playoffs next season instead of watching it.
“I think we’re just a few pieces away from really being a playoff team,” Cruz said. “We’re not far off. I really do believe that.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.