Danny Cruz chases the ball in PHIvLA
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Set for reserve role in Philadelphia, Union send Danny Cruz on Norwegian loan for "starting minutes"

CHESTER, Pa. – Coming into the season, it seemed like the Philadelphia Union were planning to count on Danny Cruz for important minutes off the bench.

But with Cruz now in his seventh year in MLS, and some talented youngsters coming through the pipeline, the Philly technical staff decided that the 25-year-old winger should be playing more than he’d be able to in Philly.

And so on Wednesday, the Union announced that they had loaned Cruz to the Norwegian first-division club FK Bodo/Glimt for the 2015 season, a move that will also offer the club some salary cap relief.

“He’s at an age now where he needs to be getting starting minutes,” Union head coach Jim Curtin said during his weekly press conference Wednesday. “He’s still young; people forget how young he is. But he needs to be getting 90 minutes. And we thought at this moment of his career, that’s more likely to happen in Norway.

“It will be a great experience for him to see a new league and the different challenges that go along with that. And hopefully when he comes back, he’ll be better than ever.”

Cruz has been a regular in the rotation since getting traded from D.C. United to the Union in the middle of the 2012 season. A favorite of former head coach John Hackworth, who coached him in the US U-17 residency program, Cruz tied for third on the team in starts and games played in 2013.

The energetic winger played less minutes in 2014 after the Union bolstered their midfield and fired Hackworth in the middle of the season. But he still played an important role off the bench, finishing with the same numbers of goals (three) and assists (two) as he did the year before.

He didn’t play in either of the team’s first two games this year because of a hamstring injury, which Curtin said delayed the loan deal.

“It wasn’t a situation where Danny became expendable, by any means,” the Union coach said. “But with every player, you have to look at what’s best for the Philadelphia Union and what’s best for their development. And that’s the direction we moved with Danny.”

Though not supremely technically gifted, Cruz brought the kind of passion and hustle that will be difficult to replace. But Curtin is comfortable with Andrew Wenger and Sebastien Le Toux as his starting wingers, and believes both Zach Pfeffer and C.J. Sapong are versatile enough to get time on either flank.

Still, the Union head coach might have to get a little more creative with his bench with attacking midfielder Cristian Maidana, who sprained his left knee in training Tuesday, joining Sapong (facial fracture) on the shelf for the next couple of weeks.

Curtin mentioned 18-year-old Cameroonian rookie Eric Ayuk as a player that’s perhaps poised to enter the gameday roster.

“Timing-wise, it’s unfortunate because a guy like C.J. goes down with a freak injury,” Curtin said. “He would have given us more depth at the position. You see Zach’s really risen to the occasion and I can throw him out wide left, wide right or as a No. 10. And Eric Ayuk has come in and started to really impress in training.”

Either way, it seems like the Union aren’t ready to close the book on Cruz in Philly. The Union head coach said the 25-year-old still has the ability to be a 90-minute player again in MLS – and that this move will help get him there.

And according to Curtin, Cruz is excited about what the next year might bring.

“He loves the Philadelphia Union, he loves the fans here and he enjoys playing here,” Curtin said. “Those are his words to me. He’s a passionate guy. But he also embraces the new challenge that he’s in.

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at djzeitlin@gmail.com.