Player Name: Danny Cruz
Stats: 3 goals, 2 assists this season
Minutes played: 2190
Appearances: 32 starts in 32 appearances
It's hard to admit when you're wrong, and a lot of us were wrong about Danny Cruz. After the half-season he spent with the Union last year, it was time for Cruz to show where he fit into the Union system. The first few matches, Cruz looked a bit lost on the pitch. His runs seemed to make no sense, his passes were errant, and his shots were largely wasteful. Cruz seemed to be trying to do way too much.
But as the year went on, something seemed to happen with Cruz. He started playing within his abilities and to his skills, and his production increased. His runs were better timed and started stretching the field, creating space for players like Conor Casey and Jack McInerney. His passes began to find their targets, and his shots became more menacing. And while Cruz didn't win over everyone, people started coming around.
Seattle took an early lead against the Union into the halftime break on a beautiful May afternoon. Shortly after play resumed, Jack McInerney went streaking down the right side where Cruz normally played and sent a beautiful cross arcing across the mouth of the box to Conor Casey, who headed it off of the post to Cruz, who put it top corner past an exposed Michael Gspurning to tie the match. On the ensuing kickoff, the Union won the ball and ran down toward Gspurning. While the River End was still filled with smoke and the reverberations of DOOP hung in the air, McInerney sent a rocket in to Gspurning, who pushed the rebound out to a Seattle defender. The defender's clearance was weak and fell right to Cruz, who booted it past Gspurning to put the Union on top. Seattle would score an equalizer late, but Cruz definitely won that day.
Cruz wound up playing in 32 matches - tied for third with Amobi Okugo and Sheanon Williams and behind only Zac MacMath (34) and Brian Carroll (33) - starting all 32. He was third on the team in shots with 56, behind only McInerney (86) and Casey (64). And while he only contributed 3 goals total in 2013, as a winger it isn't really his job to put up double-digit goals numbers. It's his job to stretch the field, put crosses in, draw some fouls, and keep agitating opposing players into picking up dumb cards. And bear in mind Cruz is only 23 - plenty of time for him to keep honing his game. He may never be Eden Hazard, but he is a decent MLS winger with a huge upside.