Lionard Pajoy settled in with D.C. United thanks to a string of starts

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D.C. United sure haven’t wasted time getting their money’s worth out of Lionard Pajoy.

Acquired in an Aug. 16 trade with the Philadelphia Union for midfielder Danny Cruz, the 31-year-old striker was thrust into the lineup, logging 57 minutes against his former club three days later.

It was the first of five consecutive starts for Pajoy in a two-week span. For the Colombian, the trial by fire during United’s busiest stretch of 2012 offered a welcome opportunity for acclimation, quickly burying any concerns about familiarity.

“It was helpful to have all those games,” Pajoy said via a translator. “Now I get the ideas of the team, particularly what [coach Ben Olsen] wants, and I’m ready to make the push here for the playoffs.”

As a sliding United squad (12-10-5) sits in sixth place, one point out of the final Eastern Conference playoff slot with seven matches remaining, Pajoy is poised to play an unlikely role in the team’s attempt to end its four-year playoff drought.

“They welcomed me and told me they were going to count on me quite a bit,” Pajoy said. “As a forward, I know the team needs goals, and that’s why I’m here.”

Thus far, Pajoy has offered useful holdup play and a tireless engine up top, enhancing United’s possession while also flustering defenders with his work ethic.

In United’s 4-2 win over the Chicago Fire on Aug. 22, he tallied his first goal in a D.C. uniform when he nodded home Andy Najar’s cross at the back post.

“He’s really strong on the ball,” midfielder Nick DeLeon said. “He holds it up really well, he makes good runs and gets in dangerous spots, and he works his butt off.”

The change of scenery has served Pajoy well. After plying his trade in Colombia for eight years, during which he gained experience in the prestigious Copa Libertadores club tournament, Pajoy signed with Philadelphia in the offseason as a replacement for departed All-Star Sebastien Le Toux.

But Pajoy’s five goals in 20 games fell short of expectations as the Union struggled out of the gate. When John Hackworth replaced Peter Nowak as coach in June, the veteran’s playing time dipped.

Once Philadelphia shifted focus to its younger attacking talent, Pajoy’s departure became inevitable.

“I may have wanted to score goals and make the playoffs in Philadelphia,” Pajoy said. “But those goals translate here just the same.”

With United, Pajoy has developed a rapport up top with captain Dwayne De Rosario, the reigning Most Valuable Player.

Throughout this season, Olsen has tried a variety of players next to De Rosario, with Hamdi Salihi, Maicon Santos and Long Tan getting extended looks.

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