Freshmen in high school are generally not concerned with charting new paths, gaining life experiences and testing their own limits. When Real Monarchs midfielder Danny Cruz was a freshman, he decided to give the game of soccer - a game completely foreign to him - a try for the very first time in what would ultimately set him on a new course in his life.
After a chance and convincing encounter with his high school soccer coach in the school’s hallway, the game of soccer would start as a way to keep his fitness up while he wasn’t devoting his efforts to playing running back on the football team. Little did he know the beautiful game would shape the direction of his life as he discovered a new passion while providing him with experiences he could unfailingly provide.
“My path was certainly not a normal path to get here, I was just playing to keep my fitness up,” Cruz said as he told the story of his soccer roots. “I loved every minute of it when I started playing. It quickly exceled, I had great coaches and teammates to get me going.”
To say Cruz’s career took off rapidly would be an understatement as he committed to play collegiate soccer at UNLV in 2007, shortly after receiving his first call to the United States National Team U-17 squad.
“I started with Olympic Development Program, made the region team and went to Florida and got seen after one good game I had against the national team there,” Cruz recalled. “From there it took off. I’ve always had people who believed in me so when I got that first call from the national team it was eye-opening and life-changing.”
Now 27, Cruz has endured a nine-year professional career, playing for three different teams in Major League Soccer, two clubs in the NASL and now finds himself in the United Soccer League with the Real Monarchs. For Cruz, the experience he has gained throughout his time as a professional has become his greatest asset and his strongest discipline to younger, more inexperienced players.
“I try to be around and be the guy that says the right things, does the right things for the younger guys on the team,” Cruz made clear. “Young guys are looking for guidance and for the most part it is about growing the people around you and can you help grow the players around you? In turn that helps me grow as a player and as person.”
Monarchs Head Coach Mark Briggs has developed a roster with a wealth of experience paired with younger players and was struck with the maturity of Cruz when the Monarchs signed him in August.
“He brings experience to the side. He’s been in the situations that a number of our players have never been in before,” Briggs explained. “His leadership and experience are going to help us in important games that some of the guys haven’t played in before. He’s brought the leadership to the table since the first day he came in, that’s the way he is and that’s his character.”
The final six regular-season games for the Monarchs come on the back of a recent drop in form, including a two-game skid starting with the first loss at Rio Tinto Stadium in 2017 to San Antonio and a scoreless draw at last place Portland a week later. With Danny Cruz and others on the roster that have garnered experience throughout their careers, Briggs feels the run for a USL Regular Season Championship and a USL Cup fall on the shoulders of the experienced men in the side.
“The experience of the guys is going to be key leading into the final stretch,” Briggs described. “Everybody understands now we’re a very good team so people change slightly in tactics when they come and play us. Cruz is helping us lead down the stretch.”