WEST DES MOINES, Iowa – Jan. 8, 2009 – Just three days after his 19th birthday, Danny Cruz became a professional soccer player.
A member of the 2008 Des Moines Menace, Cruz signed a contract with Generation adidas on Tuesday. He heads to Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., on Friday to take part in the five-day Major League Soccer Combine, the final chance to improve his soaring stock for the Jan. 15 MLS SuperDraft.
“I’m excited to start this new chapter in my life,” Cruz said in a phone interview. “I get to do something I love to do. It’s going to be a blast. It’s going to be a long, fun ride, and I can’t wait to get started.”
Cruz, a sophomore striker for UNLV this fall, has emerged as one of the United States’ most highly regarded players in the Under-20 pool. A member of the U.S. National U-20 team, he is the youngest player in this year’s nine-member Generation adidas class.
The coming weeks will be a whirlwind for Cruz, whose story is even more remarkable when you discover that he had never even watched a soccer game until his freshman year in high school. Only a few years ago, he was starring in football and roller hockey in Glendale, Ariz. Within three years of playing his first soccer game, Cruz represented the U.S. at the 2007 FIFA U-17 World Cup in South Korea.
“I’ll be living out of my bags for the coming months, but it will be well worth it,” Cruz said. “I’m looking forward to just playing, meeting new people, learning from new coaches. I’ve been blessed to have so many good people, including the Menace, who have helped me get to this point. I’ve worked hard to get here, and I’ll continue to work hard in the MLS.”
In seven matches with the Menace in 2008, Cruz tallied three goals and two assists. He spoke fondly of his experience playing for the Menace.
“I’ll always remember my time in Des Moines,” he said. “I’ve never seen such a great fan base. It was such a fun, professional environment. I’m going to miss (Menace head coach) Casey (Mann) and everyone else with the Menace. Though my time with the team was limited, I learned a lot from Casey. He’s an amazing coach. He really cares about his players. I’m really thankful for the opportunity to be part of the Menace.”
“This is a great day for the Menace organization,” said Todd Meiners, the team’s general manager. “We are always striving to provide the best opportunities for young players to reach their goals and Danny has done that. The Menace has a long history of success, and Danny will be added to our ever growing list of wonderful players who have moved on to successful professional careers. Although not every player we bring in will make it to the pros, our goal at the Menace is to at least get them started in a professional environment.”
Cruz joins a club of more than 30 former Menace players who have reached the pros. He will become the 13th former member of the Menace to play Major League Soccer. Find this list at www.menacesoccer.com/team/alumni
Cruz will continue to represent his country as a member of the national U-20 team. Right after next Thursday’s draft, he will be training with his national teammates in Trinidad & Tobago, Jan. 18-24. They will be competing in the FIFA U-20 World Cup, hosted by Egypt this fall.
ABOUT GENERATION ADIDAS: Sponsored by adidas, this is a joint venture between MLS and the United States Soccer Federation. With the goal of raising the level of young soccer talent in the U.S., the program encourages elite American players to begin their MLS careers before completing their college eligibility. Generation adidas players receive grants to further their college education. Their salaries do not count against the salary budgets of their respective teams.
Last year’s class of nine Generation adidas players produced six of the first eight selections in the 2008 MLS SuperDraft, including the top three selections. All nine players were among the draft’s first 19 picks. In 2007, the eight Generation adidas players were selected in the first 14 slots.