Union bolster crowded forward line with Pajoy

Heated position battle "healthy," says Union manager Peter Nowak

Competition at the forward position has been fierce in the early going of Philadelphia Union’s 2012 preseason training.

It just got even more competitive.

On Wednesday, Philadelphia officially announced the signing of Colombian forward Lionard Pajoy from Itagüí Ditaires of the Colombian first division. The 30-year-old Pajoy led Itagüí Ditaires in scoring with 13 goals and three assists in 27 starts, including 10 in 18 starts during the recent Clausura championship.

Pajoy joins a talented group of strikers that already included offseason acquisition Josué Martínez, 2010 number one overall pick Danny Mwanga, 2010 first-round pick Jack McInerney, and 2012 first-round pick Chandler Hoffman.

As the regular season opener inches closer – the Union play at Portland on March 12 – there is suddenly a plethora of options at forward.

“I like it,” manager Peter Nowak said on a conference call from preseason training in Florida Wednesday. “It’s very healthy competition. There’s nothing to worry about in guys fighting for a spot. I don’t think it’s going to be an issue.”

Instead, Nowak is reveling in the competition.

“The competition, guys fighting for everything in training, I think it’s very positive,” Nowak said. “I’m very impressed with how they’re training and their mentality, in terms of hitting each other, but also helping each other up from the ground and patting each other on the shoulders – going away from a good tackle with a smile on the face.”

In Pajoy, the Union believe they have found a player who can make an immediate impact.

“He’s a player in demand; he’s a guy that scored a ton of goals in the Colombian league," Union head of scouting Diego Gutierrez told the Philadelphia Daily News. “He stands out from the smaller, quicker [Colombian] forwards. This is a physical player that can play with his back to the goal, and that made him a commodity.

“He had a lot of offers. We actually went to Colombia and had a few cups of coffee and had negotiations again with both him and with his club, convincing him that this would be the best fit for him.”

When the regular season opens, who will start? It’s too early for an answer.

But it’s a good problem to have, especially because McInerney is expected to miss time due to the Summer Olympics and qualifying.

“The more (strikers), the better,” Nowak said. “I’ve always expressed that we have options. We have healthy competition. We’re going to mix it up."

Expect Pajoy to be right in the middle of that mix.

“He brings character and a scoring mentality to the game,” Nowak said. “He’s very physical and very fast as well. He can change the game. … He’s not just a pure box player, he’s not just a poacher. He’s all over the place. He’s very mobile, and he can always create something for whoever he’s going to play with up top.”

All five strikers can create. All five can score.

“With Lionard, Josué, Jack and Danny, we have good tandems and a lot of options,” said Nowak. “And with Chandler Hoffman being with us, that’s a good situation as well.”

How this will play out is anyone’s guess.

“It’s a good win-win situation,” Nowak said. “We’ll see where we stand coming out of the Costa Rica camp in three weeks.”