Danny Cruz is in constant motion.
From the moment a training session begins, Cruz doesn’t stop moving until it ends.
The same goes on match day. His energy is contagious.
It’s not uncommon to see Cruz sprawling on the ground at last a half dozen times during any given match. He runs and runs and runs until he has nothing left.
Few players give as much as the gritty Philadelphia Union midfielder.
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“I think as of late I’ve just been trying to get better every week and I do think that at times if I press a little bit harder, guys seem to follow,” Cruz told philadelphiaunion.com after a recent training session. “I think that’s one of our strengths as a team. It’s been fun the last few weeks. It really has. I think we’ve put ourselves in a position to succeed. We have a tough stretch but so does the rest of the league.”
Over the next month, Cruz knows his resolve and the resolve of his teammates will be tested -- starting with a return to MLS action against Sporting Kansas City on Sept. 27 (8 p.m., NBC Sports Network). It’s a huge match for Philadelphia, caught in the mix of a crowded playoff race in the Eastern Conference.
Expect Cruz to be exhausting every ounce of energy once again, this time against one of his former clubs.
“The support I’ve gotten from the fans has been tremendous,” Cruz said. “It has helped me get through rough patches in the season that every player has. I feel like I’ve gotten through that. I’ve handled it well and I’m coming into my own at the most important stretch of the year. It definitely gives you an added sense of urgency. When I go out there by the 70th minute I’m exhausted because by that time I’ve given everything I have into it. I’ve always been that person. I always will be. I think that’s something that’s gotten me through five years in this league, through over 100 games played, hopefully it’ll continue in my career.”
Much of his success can attributed to playing American football. Cruz competed in both soccer and American football in high school in Arizona and the two sports had some overlapping ingredients.
“I was a running back and a ball carrier,” Cruz said. “I always had the ball. Now that football season started, I watch it and I miss it. It was something I was good at. I learned a lot from it. You see things happening in American football. You have to find a hole. You have to try to read the hole. It bounced over to soccer real easily because you have to see the play before it’s happening. You have to make a run before BC (Brian Carroll), for example, is ready to play the ball. All these tendencies that you have to see in advance. I’m not the most orthodox player but I’m not planning on changing that because it has gotten me to where I am.”
The fact that Cruz is completing his fifth season in MLS is a remarkable story. Because by his senior year, it was decision time on which sport to continue playing.
“It was the hardest decision I ever made in my life,” Cruz said. “My senior year in high school by my third game, mind you a game that was on TV in Arizona, I had to make a choice. In Arizona, football is in the fall. We were on TV and I had a couple touchdowns. I had told my soccer coach I wasn’t playing football. He saw that I was playing and he told me, ‘Look, you need to make a decision. You need to play for us or play football.’ I thought long and hard about it and at that time it became a really difficult decision but I made it.
“I don’t have any regrets about moving on with soccer, but I’d be lying if I said I turned on a college football game and wondered what it would be like if I did that. I’m obviously ecstatic to be where I am and to be a professional soccer player for five years now.”
In 2011, Cruz helped the Dynamo reach the MLS Cup Final before falling 1-0 to the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Now, the goal in these last five matches of the season is to help the Union do all they can to reach the postseason for the second time in the club’s four-year history.
Cruz believes the talent has always been there. It’s just a matter of finishing strong.
“I think we’ve been a little bit better than I thought,” Cruz said. “When I look back at those two games – Salt Lake and Dallas – that puts us at the top with everybody else. Those were two tough matches. I think we’re still young, we made a few mistakes but we’re still in position to be successful. If you look at where we were last year and our record last year, we’re getting better and we’re getting more experienced. The older guys have done a good job of keeping us composed. We’re in a good spot now. It’s going to be tough. This is the most important part. This is where you find out if you’re good enough for the playoffs. I know we are and I’m excited for the rest of the season.”
Contact Union writer Andy Jasner at firstname.lastname@example.org