My first real strong memory of watching Danny Cruz on an MLS pitch came during the 2011 playoffs. Not to rehash bad memories for everyone, but two years ago as a member of the Dynamo, Cruz was a terror down the right side of the field that the Union struggled to maintain. I remember watching him and wishing that the Union could add a fast, pacy winger who could rampage down the field like him, and felt slight pangs of jealousy when he made the move to DC in the offseason. He was a 21 year old winger who had just broken out in the 2011 playoffs, helping the Dynamo to the Eastern Conference Championship and the Finals. Though he needed some technical refinement, Danny Cruz looked like the kind of player who had the potential to terrorize defenses for years to come.
Fast forward two years, one trade and a switch to the opposite wing and I find myself exceptionally frustrated with Danny Cruz. I do not single him out here because he is such an awful player, beyond McInerney and Casey, the Union offense is largely making do with a set of misfit toys that do not seem to fit what John Hackworth is trying to do. However, in some ways Cruz is the most frustrating, as he seems to keep getting himself in positions where he makes it seems like something will happen, yet it never does. Once or twice, this kind of mistake can be chalked up to bad luck, and a simple reminder that form is temporary and class is permanent might be enough. However, with the exception of a day when the power of the Force compelled him to score twice against Seattle, Cruz always seems to threaten goals without ever delivering. When playing the left wing position he seems to occupy most often for the Union, he also does not provide much by way of service.
My personal frustrations with Cruz left me thinking about his skills and limitations more seriously. Though he does not make the best decisions and his technique is mediocre at best, there are some things to really like about Danny Cruz. He is one of the hardest workers on the pitch, is fast tough, and by all accounts, seems like a very nice guy. At DC United, his performance was very much the same. I was having a conversation with a DC United supporter, who goes by beardyblue on sbnation and he had this to say about Cruz:
He’ll run headfirst into a brick wall for his coach if the coach says to. I loved Danny when he was at United and was really gutted when we traded him for the (now) most loathed player on the team . And that’s saying something, because we have Carlos Ruiz... He has tons of heart and will run into the wall for the coach… but he isn’t the most technically gifted player. He does do some stuff that leaves you shaking your head, both because it was surprisingly good and because it was surprisingly bad. At the end of the day, he’s a little bit of a blunt instrument minus the thuggery. He just goes all out. He’s also a really, really good guy.
The description of Cruz's performances in DC are not all that different from what we would say about him in Philadelphia. I bring up the DC United opinion to point out how all the great things about Cruz's game had already been there before he came to Philadelphia, and that it seems that he has yet to add much to the technical side of his game. He has been getting consistent minutes for the last two years, so it might be a question of accepting that the skills that would round Cruz into a complete player may never arrive for him.
Because he is a player with such strengths and limitations, I find myself wondering how and where Cruz best fits. At twenty three, there is still room for improvement, but he is closer to the finished product that he will be now than when he was a twenty one year old cutting through playoff defenses for the Dynamo. It might be tempting to move him back to the right side where he is more comfortable, and his inadequacies providing service and in the technical department would be less pronounced out there. However, in the short term, that is unlikely. An offense with Sebastien LeToux at right wing is almost certainly the best thing for the Union at the moment. However, things could change rapidly. At their ages, it is uncertain how many more good years either LeToux or Casey have left. McInerney could very easily be in Europe in the next couple years. It makes no sense to get rid of Cruz just because at the moment, the right wing spot is occupied. Cruz is not so good he should be considered untradable, but he is far too good to be let go of without some compensation in return.
In the short term, the Union are not doing well with Danny Cruz playing at left wing, and with the Union firmly in playoff contention, this is a position where they need to improve. The easiest solution would be to acquire a top class left wing somewhere, but that may not be in the offing. The Front Office had their chance at Abdul Kadir Keita yet passed up on it for some reason. There are also some in house options, though all of them would be playing out of position and none of them seem like guaranteed successes. Fabinho looked good on the left wing during a short cameo against Chivas USA, while Keon Daniel is a genuine left footer. Michael Farfan is blocked from the right wing spot by LeToux and could be given a try out there, while Leo Fernandes has impressed in the opportunities he has received. John Hackworth could also choose to placate the fans calling for a certain diminutive Colombian by giving Roger Torres a run out there. I do not see any of these options as guaranteed to be better than Cruz, but I would not preclude the possibility that one of these players could give the Union the spark they need on the left wing.
It is worth remembering that at 23, Danny Cruz is the same age as Sheanon Williams and Ray Gaddis while being two years younger than Michael Farfan. If the Union are committing to a group of young players with potential, Cruz certainly fits in there. The Union are a squad that could also benefit from depth, having just a quality starting XI is not enough to get it done in MLS. There are injuries, national team call ups and yellow card suspensions. Because of this, as much as I may find him frustrating and shout unkind things at my television set every time Cruz botches another opportunity for the Union, I would much rather he be in Philadelphia than any other team in MLS. However if the Union want to take their best shot at a trophy this year, doing so will almost certainly require an option on the left wing other than Danny Cruz.