Danny Cruz scored seven goals for the Philadelphia Union in his 70 appearances for the team stretched out over five seasons between 2012 and 2015, but it was two goals he scored a minute apart in a game against the Seattle Sounders in 2013 that stand out from his time here.
“That’s probably one of the better memories I have of my career other than MLS Cup (with Houston Dynamo in 2011),” Cruz said of the 2-2 draw on May 4, 2013. “That game in particular I remember because I had two good buddies of mine in town and the Sons of Ben brought them in to sit in the River End with them. I remember the energy, I’ll never forget the feeling, I never will.”
Cruz will back in the building now known as Talen Energy Stadium this Sunday on the sidelines as the assistant coach for Louisville City FC in a USL Championship matinee at 2 p.m. against the Bethlehem Steel. He’ll be there with his former Union head coach, John Hackworth, whose staff he joined last September ahead of their second straight USL Cup win.
“There will be a lot of emotion for sure and I know obviously it’s a different league but I’m really excited to go back,” Cruz said in a phone interview earlier this week. “It’s certainly a place that I hold close to my heart and I’m looking forward to getting back there in a different role.”
Like his boss, Cruz has a somewhat mixed legacy in Philadelphia. Acquired in August 2012 in a trade with D.C. United for Lionard Pajoy and an international spot, the Virginia native was a live wire on the pitch who would create highlights with his relentless play one minute and frustrate fans the next.
“Definitely everybody in Philadelphia knew me well as a player,” Cruz said. “They knew what I struggled with and they knew that every single game I was going to give them everything I had and that hasn’t changed as a coach.”
Off the field, Cruz was known for his magnetic personality and was the type of player who always stuck around to interact with fans after games, even when he would have preferred to head straight to the locker room after a tough night on the pitch.
“You talk about fans loving me and criticizing me, that’s part of the game and what I loved the most about it is the authenticity,” Cruz said. “I can handle criticism because at the end of the day everybody wants the same thing, they want us to win. I wasn’t the type of player who walked away from a game and said you know I played really well there if I didn’t. I knew more than fans knew if I was playing like shit or playing well.”
Cruz’s Union career ended when he was loaned to Norwegian club FK Bodø/Glimt at the beginning of the 2015 season. He returned to the U.S. to play for Minnesota United in the NASL in 2016 and then was part of the San Francisco Deltas for part of their lone season in 2017 before finishing the season with the Real Monarchs. He then transitioned into coaching with the Real Salt Lake USL affiliate the following season.
In total, the former UNLV star ended up playing nine seasons as a pro for seven different clubs with his longest stint coming in Philadelphia.
“I had so many amazing moments there and some tough ones, obviously Open Cup losing in the final, but it’s the last MLS team I played for, it will always have a big place in my heart,” he said. “I don’t have any negatives to say, not to mention my family and I absolutely loved the city, every bit of it.”
While the Union won’t be playing on Sunday and many of the players in the Steel roster will be unfamiliar from his days as a player, Steel FC head coach Brendan Burke will be to both Cruz and Hackworth. Burke was an assistant under Hackworth.
“I’m really happy for those guys,” Burke said of his former boss and player. “They have their hands on a fantastic project with a really good roster. I know they’re both happy there in my conversations with them and I’m sure there will be a lot of mixed emotions coming back here.”
Sunday’s game at Talen Energy Stadium kicks off at 2 p.m. It will also be streamed live on ESPN+.*
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