What did our beloved Claret and Cobalt do the evening of March, 10th? They did what they trained for. They did what they most wanted. They did what they are capable of. They “came to score” (The Aggrolites).
Paulo Jr., our favorite RSL Brazilian (what do you mean he's the only one?), has been sent off on a great adventure to Florida, where he's being sent on loan to NASL side Ft. Lauderdale Strikers. Paulo, who hasn't scored a goal in the run of play in well over a year, will be looking to find his feet out there, perhaps score a few goals, and really get some playing time.
He hasn't seen the pitch for long periods of time since going on a run of starts to begin the season, coming on for cameos when he has. Although his form has improved — the match against Portland was, I think, his best game in some time — he still lacks that vital confidence to get forward, score goals, and be an influential player.
The arrival of Justin Braun to the side, of course, complicates matters. Paulo was suddenly going to see less time because a more effective, proven striker has come into the side. Yes, they play in radically different styles, but to some small extent, a striker is a striker is a striker. And that's what matters right now: Braun and Saborio will likely see some time together on the pitch, as will Braun and Espindola, and this drives out Paulo's chances even further than his lackluster play.
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm a fan of Paulo, and I do think he's done well for the side in creating chances. In fact, he is near the top of our standings in key passes per minute — it's not everything, but it's something. But he's not near the top of his game, and at this point, sitting on the bench won't do anything for his confidence or ability.
Keen-eyed observers will recognize that Paulo has played for the Strikers before, though at the time, they were known as Miami FC. I'm not entirely sure how much turnover they've had since he last regularly featured there in 2010, but he'll certainly know some of the side, which could well help his transition.
Now, the loan is short term, but fan rumblings would indicate that they hope it's permanent. I can sympathize a little: Paulo has seemingly underperformed from his startling beginning to his MLS career, when he was shockingly active and seemed a great impact player.
A long injury layoff, though, took away any continuity Paulo could have gained from his great start. Months and months out of the side built the mystique around him — he was suddenly the answer to our problems, it seemed, although the proof wasn't there. It was, as usual, in the pudding, and the pudding was desperate to come back from injury.
When he came back, he wasn't particularly fit. I suppose a lack of running does that to a person. Late in the season, when his return came, he wasn't even half the player he was. His trickery and energy were sapped from his body. Was he good enough, we wondered?
This preseason changed the discussion a bit. He was stronger, more slender, and fast. He showed some trickery on the ball, and though he wasn't as direct as he may have been, there was hope that he'd find his feet again. Patience was in order, but patience only goes so far.
Whether it was Jason's patience running out or a desire for Paulo to get some quality time on the pitch — or even a player-driven request; we don't know — we can be hopeful that the Paulo that comes back has the confidence and swagger he showed so readily when he arrived.