The Union technical staff says the club's new striker can do a little bit of everything.
On Wednesday, Philadelphia completed the signing of 30-year-old Lionard Pajoy from Colombian side Itagüí Ditaires. The veteran joins a new-look Union attack, which is comprised of 21-year-olds Josué Martínez and Chandler Hoffman, 20-year-old Danny Mwanga, and 19-year-old Jack McInerney.
"We saw (Pajoy) many times and talked to him many times during our stay in Colombia," Nowak revealed during Wednesday's media conference call. "I think he’s a guy who brings not only character but also a mentality to the game. He’s very physical, and very fast as well. He can change the game with everything, because he’s a different option."
A quick glance at Pajoy's highlight reel exhibits a wide-ranging skill set. The Colombian has excellent presence in and around the penalty area, scoring most of his goals inside the box with his natural right foot.
At 6-1, he's big enough to exhibit target man qualities in the final third, effectively using his body to control the ball and shield himself from defenders. He has the height to compete for headers and shows goal scoring ability in the air.
His 185-pound frame includes enough muscle to compete physically with big MLS center backs, but it's not a size that becomes detrimental to speed.
Throughout his career, Pajoy has shown good skill at collecting the ball on the left flank, cutting inside with his right foot, and shooting on the run. He can hit curling shots to the far corner, or strike flat shots with his instep.
In other situations, he's shown that he can latch onto long balls, retain possession, and wait for help to come.
"He’s not just a pure box player, and he’s not just a poacher," added Nowak. "He’s all over the place and he’s very mobile, and he can always create something for whoever he’s going to play with up top with."
When evaluating Pajoy's skill set, the trait that seems most critical to the Union is his composure and ability inside the box.
In 2011, Nowak's squad was most successful offensively when running lone striker sets with Sebastien Le Toux. Philadelphia began to use a 4-5-1 shape in the second half of the season, after the departure of Carlos Ruiz. Ruiz brought veteran instincts to the attack, and the Union were less active in the penalty area during the latter stages of the campaign.
"We still scored a lot of goals, and I believe we played well offensively," explained Nowak, "but sometimes there was a missing part."
In Pajoy, the Union hope they have found someone who can consistently put away chances in the area. His flexibility allows the Union to show a number of different formations. Whereas Le Toux and Ruiz both preferred more defined roles, Pajoy is a player who can be used both centrally and in wide areas.
In a two striker set, Pajoy is big enough to receive the ball and allow a partner to run off of him. He also has the speed to play the second striker role himself.
Whether or not the Colombian can be effective in a lone striker set is another question. If the Union utilize the popular 4-2-3-1 shape, with Brian Carroll and Gabriel Gomez in holding midfield roles, then the attack situation becomes more interesting. Philadelphia often used the 4-2-3-1 on the road, bolstering the defense at the expense of more frequent attacks.
Or perhaps we'll see the 4-3-3 this season, a formation that Nowak has stayed away from throughout his coaching career. The multiple options at forward make the 4-3-3 a possibility this year. Sporting Kansas City finished first in the Eastern Conference running the shape last year, while established European clubs like Ajax and Barcelona have won championships using the formation.
Nowak alluded to the flexibility when asked how he plans to insert fellow new signing Martínez into the Union attack.
"(Martínez) can play (in a withdrawn role), but in all the games we’ve played in training sessions he’s still up front," Nowak said. "He’s a guy who can change a system to 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1. He can be the guy who's coming from the second line because of his speed. We can utilize him in different fashions.
"But as of now, we aren’t trying too many things at once. We’re trying to give him a structure first, a playbook, and make sure he will understand what his role is. And also to connect with the guys up front, to have a partner."