Philadelphia Union’s offseason shake-up continued on Wednesday with the official signing of Lionard Pajoy, one of the top forwards in the Colombian First Division.
Pajoy – a physical, in-form, 30-year-old marksman – is coming off of a Clausura championship in which he scored 10 goals in only 18 games for Itagüí Ditaires. In 27 total starts in 2011, Pajoy netted 13 goals and added three assists.
While the Union have notably lost Sébastien Le Toux, Faryd Mondragón, Veljko Paunović and Justin Mapp since the 2011 season ended, the club has added four potential stars in internationals Pajoy, Josué Martínez, Gabriel Gómez and Porfirio López, as well as first round pick Chandler Hoffman, Home Grown player Jimmy McLaughlin, and waiver draft selection Nizar Khalfan, who was starting and playing well down the stretch for Vancouver in 2011.
Philadelphia also managed to retain talented young playmaker Roger Torres, previously on loan from América de Cali.
And in Pajoy, who has received his P-1 Visa and will join the club's preseason training in the near future, the Union technical staff believes they have found a player who can be among the most productive strikers in Major League Soccer.
“Pajoy is an interesting player,” head of scouting and player development Diego Gutierrez told philadelphaunion.com. “He’s a very physical player. He’s a guy that’s 6-1, a wide body, and a guy that’s got a lot of speed. He’s not your typical target player, though he does play with his back to the goal quite well. He also has a lot of skill on the ball, so he’s able to do a lot of things.”
Just as Martínez can play as a central striker or out wide, according to manager Peter Nowak, Pajoy also has the versatility to interchange up top.
“He’s able to mold to whatever the coaching staff is going to ask of him,” Gutierrez said. “At the end of the day, we need guys who are going to put the ball in the back of the net, and he’s certainly proven he can do that.”
Pajoy has played for several teams in his career – all in Colombia – since debuting for Cortulua in 2004, including Atlético Huila in 2005, Boyacá Chicó in 2006, Cúcuta Deportivo from 2007-2009, Deportivo Cali in 2010, and Millionarios in 2010 before his loan and subsequent transfer to Itagüí Ditaires. Pajoy was a part of Cucuta's 2006 championship-winning side as well as the club's run to the semifinals of the 2007 Copa Libertadores.
While character issues have been raised relating to Pajoy’s past, the Union technical staff’s research revealed a victim of irresponsible medical treatment, rather than a troubled individual.
In 2007, Pajoy was suspended following a Libertadores Cup game with Cúcuta Deportivo – in which he scored the game-winning goal – after testing positive for a banned substance that was administered by the team's training staff. The substance was not illegal, though it was banned in international competitions. Despite having no prior knowledge that the substance contained banned ingredients, Pajoy was suspended for six months and fined.
The positive test in 2007 stands as the only one of Pajoy’s career, and the forward has never been accused of any other form of disciplinary trouble.
“A lot of things are said here and there,” Gutierrez said, “but until you sit with the person and really get to know him a little bit and understand what he’s like and where he comes from, then you know what you got.
“After meeting him, we’re very pleased, and it just confirmed our suspicion that he’s a guy that can come in and not only score goals, but be a good impact on the team.”
If it seems like Colombia has been targeted by the Union for incoming talent, it’s not an accident.
“Like we do with many leagues around the world, the Colombian league is one that’s very fruitful and very fertile right now,” said Gutierrez. “Certainly, business-wise, it’s a great opportunity for MLS. Not only us, but the league as a whole.
“We pay quite a bit of attention to all the leagues south of the border. So when Peter and I were watching some of the games down there, we identified [Pajoy] as a guy who could potentially come in and help us, and finally we took a trip in the month of November where we got the opportunity to see him first-hand and sit with him and understand what he’s about and what he’s like as a person.”
With Pajoy in tow, the Union suddenly have five strikers capable of earning a starting role. In addition to Pajoy and 21-year-old Martínez – who Union CEO & Operating Partner Nick Sakiewicz revealed has been scouted by top European clubs – youngsters Danny Mwanga, Jack McInerney and former UCLA ace Chandler Hoffman have the upside to be among the league’s elite.
So how will the lineup shake out? The jury's still out.
“It’s about competition,” Gutierrez said. “It’s about making sure that everybody is pushing each other. This group, since we’ve created this franchise, since we’ve rolled the first ball, it’s been about healthy competition, about guys pushing each other.
“So you put guys in situations where they have to compete, not with one guy or wait until one guy has an injury, but make him compete with two or three or four guys. All of a sudden, that player’s level rises dramatically. So we're putting the pieces together to have a good, precise and deep roster, and I think we’re now going to be in a position where we’re going to see the benefits of that.”
WATCH: Lionard Pajoy highlights