Season Reviews

Season review: Danny Cruz

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Danny Cruz has a particular set of skills. His physical skills are the kind that grab attention, but it is his psychological skills that are often at play when Cruz is an effective player. While coaches and commentators will rave about Cruz’s physicality, work rate, and speed, it has more often been the potential threat posed by a player with those assets rather than any actual, on-field threat that has made Danny Cruz an MLS starter over the past three seasons.

Cruz is a mess of contradictions. He is a hard-working player, yet he tracks back poorly. He is a physical player, yet he goes down easy. He can chase down any ball, yet he rarely sees the 80th minute of a game. He is an out-and-out winger, yet he lacks any semblance of a winger’s game in the final third. (He can’t cross, and he can’t take people on in tight spaces.) Indeed, Cruz seems, for all intents and purposes, like an ideal bench player. Yet he has been in the first eleven at all three stops in his MLS career.

Yes, Danny Cruz started on a Houston team that went to the MLS Cup final. He was also a regular starter on a good DC United team in 2012 before being traded. And he was a fixture in John Hackworth’s side that beat expectations for much of this season. It’s clear that MLS coaches see Danny Cruz as a very useful player, and that Hackworth in particular believes Cruz deserved more freedom to expand his game.

In 2013, Cruz set personal records for games played, games started, minutes played, goals scored, shots taken, and shots on goal. His 56 shots blew away the record 39 he took in 2012, and the 19 shots on goal almost doubled the 10 he put on frame a year ago.

But an increased role in the offense did not translate into more production. While Cruz scored three goals, two came in less than a minute against Seattle. While he put a higher percentage of his shots on goal, so many were from bad shooting positions (call it The Andros Townsend Effect) that it hardly could be called a useful change.

So what is the takeaway from Danny Cruz’s most productive MLS season? Was he an asset? A liability? Did he grow as a player? And if he was a liability, was that a symptom of the Union’s troubled midfield or a cause?

Those are complex questions, and this is a short season review. So perhaps the best shortcut to giving Danny Cruz a 2013 season grade is a straightforward question that cuts to the heart of the Union’s late season collapse: Did Danny Cruz, from the wing position, provide his strikers (the team’s best asset this year) with the consistent, quality service they needed?

The answer should be very clear.

Cruz 2013 season statsHigh point

It wasn’t just the high point of his season; it was probably the high point of his career. The Union were losing at home against a very professional Seattle team with a well-planned road strategy when Danny Cruz released a piledriver past Michael Gspurning to tie the game. Less than 60 seconds later, Cruz doubled his total and put the Union ahead when he knocked in Jack McInerney’s rebound.

The Union would eventually tie the Sounders, but Cruz scored two-thirds of his season’s goals and set a season high in shots on goal (3). He was a difference-maker in a game that, after a discouraging 2-0 loss to New England, the Union needed to walk away from with their heads held high.

Low point

With the Union absolutely needing a win against Montreal in the second to last game of the season, Cruz was anonymous. He completed 10 of 12 passing, but an insane 8 of 10 completed passes were backwards, with one square pass and a forward flicked on header to round out the group. Those are the numbers the guy who comes in at the 76th minute puts up, not the guy who has been playing the previous 75.

Strengths

Speed, directness, work rate. Cruz was effective when he pinned defenders back or exploited a high line. As teams learned to anticipate this, he struggled to adjust and often found himself unable to climb into a game from an isolated wide position. Nevertheless, Cruz was always down for a chase, and when he pressed smartly, he was effective defensively. Cruz was also good at earning free kicks in dangerous positions.

Weaknesses

Cruz remained a one-trick pony most of the season, and if he was not finding space in behind the defense, he quickly disappeared. Additionally, Cruz’s good defensive work rate pressing often overshadowed his poor run-tracking, and when another team was good in possession or quick to counterattack, they found space down Cruz’s side. Finally, it’s unclear if he was just a convenient sub or whether John Hackworth just didn’t think he could make it a full 90, but Cruz rarely lasted a full game.

Outlook

For now, Cruz is locked in to the Union midfield for 2014. His continued presence – and the skill set he brings – will be a strong determinant of how the Union midfield will develop going forward. Cruz is a one-trick pony, and that trick is not possession soccer or tactical discipline.

While he could be trade bait for a team that wants to play an out-and-out counterattacking style, it looks more likely Danny Cruz will continue to occupy Philadelphia’s right flank next season.

6 Comments

  1. “For now, Cruz is locked in to the Union midfield for 2014.”

    Look like its time to turn in my fan card.

    I’d rather watch my local rec league then see this guy on my team next year.

    • OneManWolfpack says:

      I was gonna write an essay but you said it best.
      .
      This guy hustles and that’s great but he has to go to the bench. He can not be starting for this team come next season.

  2. “He is a hard-working player, yet he tracks back poorly.”

    Then he’s not a hard-working player. He just looks like one on offense. I’ve watched too many highlight videos this year where a team is attacking the 18-yard box and we see Cruz just casually strolling back into the far corner of the camera. If all you want to do is ignore defensive responsibility and hang near the midfield line while your teammates try to win the ball back, go play xbox.

  3. Southside Johnny says:

    All of the above plus consistently poor postioning for winger with no ability to serve as a solid wide outlet.

  4. Well said. I have been frustrated all season when Cruz is on the field. I don’t believe he has enough talent to even be in the league. Should be bench warmer or late sub at best. This is a major reason why I lack faith in Hack’s player selection ability. How does Torres sit and Cruz play…that should have been Farfan’s spot anyway. Hack doesn’t have a clue. Keon gets all that time while Kleberson and Torres ride the pine! We could have been a better team then we were if Hack made better decisions. More exciting too. So Hack now gets another chance with no more excuses to get it right. Well see. I hope so for our team, but wouldn’t bet on it.

  5. Yea, never got the whole “Cruz the hard worker” when he never played defense. If he’s starting next year… I will be angry. Grrr.

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