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Posted Sep 27, 2012, 9:23 am
It all came down one Thursday morning in August.
"I was having breakfast in the players' lounge and the coach called me into his office," Daniel Cruz said in a phone interview.
Cruz was, up until that morning, a midfielder for DC United. That morning, he found out that he was traded to the Philadelphia Union.
"I got a call from my new team and cleaned out my locker," he said.
It isn't the first move for the Glendale-raised Cruz. Despite only being 22, Philadelphia is his third team in Major League Soccer. He played from 2009 - 2011 for the Houston Dynamo. While with the Dynamo, he scored a crucial goal in the penultimate game of the season against the Portland Timbers. That win got Houston into the playoffs and eventually gave Cruz and the Dynamo an appearance in that year's MLS Cup. That didn't keep him from being traded to DC United the following January.
The trade in August came after a coaching change at Philadelphia. The Union, only in it's third season in MLS, had just sacked their coach, former Polish national team player Piotr Nowak. The sacking came after a series of unexplainable player transfers and lack of success on the field. Nowak's firing is still the subject of litigation, but new players like Cruz find it easy to put the whole thing behind them.
"It hasn't affected me. I never knew him," he said. "I've only seen a good locker room with good management."
What's helped is that Cruz is playing for and with familiar faces. The Union's current coach is John Hackworth, who coached Cruz at the Under 17 World Cup. That team also included Union players Amobi Okugo, Zac MacMath and Sheanon Williams. There's also Freddy Adu, who Cruz also knew from his time playing in the U.S. national team system.
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"I played with a lot of these guys," Cruz said. "It's different than with DC United where I only knew two people."
Cruz calls his first month and a half with the Union a "good time so far," and apparently Hackworth agrees. He's gotten seven starts in the seven games that the team has played during his time with them.
Among those games were two special ones for Cruz: one against Houston and one against DC United. Last Friday, the Union played DC United, followed by a Sunday match against Houston.
Instead of talking about trying to prove something to his old teams, Cruz chose to focus on his team's results in the matches that weekend, which ended in a split decision: A 1- 0 loss to DC United and a 3 -1victory over the Dynamo.
"Sunday was great, we had a great performance" he said. "But Friday? It wasn't my best performance."
Still, he did have to play against old teammates.
"It's pretty emotional. I'm not going to lie," he admitted.
Philadelphia is scheduled to take on the Columbus Crew on Saturday. They are currently 16 points out of playoff contention, but could still get in with a string of wins in their final stretch. The game can be seen by Direct Kick subscribers at 4:30 on Saturday.
Old Pueblo has brotherly love too
Philadelphia isn't the only place where Cruz can see familiar faces.
Both of Cruz's previous MLS teams spent their preseason in Arizona. When asked if he'd like to see his current team spend some time here, he brought up an old coach of his.
"I loved being back there and it's really grown," he said. "I know Jon Pearlman really well."
FC Tucson general manager Pearlman was Cruz's coach during his time with the Olympic Development Program in 2006 and 2007.
"He's one of the best athletes I ever coached," said Pearlman. "He's got a great work rate. He's a consistent player at the MLS level."
Pearlman helped Cruz with his decision to attend UNLV and keeps in touch with him.
"He's like a little brother for me," he said. "He's a great kid."
There is still no word about what teams will be in this year's Desert Diamond Cup, but Cruz welcomes the chance to play in front of Pearlman and a home-state crowd.
"I've heard good things about it," Cruz said. "To play in front of thousands of people is a good way to prepare for the season."