Sunday, February 7, 2016

Catching up with Philadelphia Union forwards Lionard Pajoy and Jorge Perlaza

A few minutes with the Union's Colombian forward duo.

Catching up with Philadelphia Union forwards Lionard Pajoy and Jorge Perlaza

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When Antoine Hoppenot hit the deck and won a penalty kick late in Saturday's game, it was anyone's guess as to who would step up to the spot.

Historically, Sébastien Le Toux did the honors. This year, the only other PK the Union have won was taken by Gabriel Gómez, and he's out injured.

John Hackworth informed the media after the game that it's supposed to be Michael Farfan's job now. But it didn't work out that way this time.

"Pajoy stepped up and there was no question he wanted it," Hackworth said. "When a forward does that and he's feeling it, you might as well give him it, and he took it well."

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That wasn't Pajoy's only major contribution of the night. The other was subtle, so much so that it took a few people in the press box a moment to realize what had happened. But it was a very smart move.

When I first saw Pajoy's involvement in the move that resulted in Jack McInerney's opening goal, I thought Pajoy had scuffed a shot that was blocked by Kansas City's Chance Myers. It was clear that Pajoy wasn't going to be able to get to Raymon Gaddis' cross at the right time, but I thought he had at least turned the ball on frame.

Except he hadn't. Pajoy backheeled the ball into McInerney's path. It was a risky move, but it paid off in a big way.

For as much criticism as Pajoy has taken this year, it seems that he has settled into a comfortable position on the left side of a three-forward line. He certainly is better playing in a supporting role than at the very top of the attack.

"I have played in [that system] in previous teams," Pajoy told me Saturday night through an interpreter. "Whatever the coach wants me to do, I'm happy to do so - even defending - and especially when I can contribute a goal."

Pajoy doesn't have the pace that Josué Martinez brings, but he makes up for that with two important traits: experience and size. I suspect that both of those attributes will prove useful over the course of the rest of the season.


 

After talking with Pajoy, I moved to the next locker over to spend a few minutes with Jorge Perlaza. He admitted (also through an interpreter) that the transition from Portland has been "complicated," mainly because his family is still in the process of moving themselves and all of their things.

But his situation has been made easier by a longtime bond with Carlos Valdés. The two Colombians spent time together in the same youth soccer academy in their native country.

Perlaza also said that he appreciates being able to play on a natural grass surface at PPL Park, instead of the artificial turf that exists at Portland's JELD-WEN Field.

"You do notice the difference right away," he said. "Even though Portland has one of the better artificial turf stadiums, I think PPL Park is a very good stadium ... you definitely notice that the grass is natural."

The field at PPL Park is also five yards wider than the field at JELD-WEN - 75 yards instead of 70. Even though Perlaza hasn't played much, he has noticed the difference in widths, and how it affects the Union's playing style.

"Here, you have much more space," Perlaza said. "Given the nature of the players we have here, it helps to have that much space to be able to move around."

It has definitely caught the attention of some people that Perlaza hasn't played much since arriving from Portland. I'm not going to argue that Perlaza should be played over in-form strikers such as Jack McInerney and Antoine Hoppenot, but I don't think Perlaza will be consigned to the bench forever. He has plenty of pace and skill, and I think we'll see that in due time.

Staff Writer
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