Former Cup champions key to Union postseason success

CHESTER, Pa. – Recently, Philadelphia Union defender Danny Califf pulled up on old YouTube video from the LA Galaxy’s 2002 championship season and got chills. It was the first of two MLS Cups for the Galaxy, and Califf, who was just 22 at the time, played a big role as a rising defensive star.

“It brought back a lot of great memories,” Califf told MLSsoccer.com. “Now I have the feeling like, ‘here it comes again.’ I can’t wait.”

When the Union begin their own playoff quest in Sunday’s first leg of their Eastern Conference semifinal against Houston at PPL Park (4 pm ET, ESPN2/ESPN Deportes), they will likely rely on the experience of Califf. The imposing defender is one of only six Philly players to have ever participated in the MLS Cup Playoffs.

But even though less than a quarter of the club’s roster have played in an MLS postseason game, the six that have – Califf, Brian Carroll, Justin Mapp, Freddy Adu, Stefani Miglioranzi and Sébastien Le Toux – boast a lot of success, accounting for a combined 27 playoff berths, seven title game appearances and five championships heading into this season’s playoffs.

Have they talked to the younger guys about what it takes to win at this stage?

“We haven’t held team meetings or anything but certainly in our own little way we’re tying to convey the kind of attitude you need to take into the playoffs,” said Califf, who got to the postseason his first six years in the league from 2000-05, before bolting for Europe. “There’s more emotion, more urgency, and everyone is juiced. I think we’re going to be ready.”

For the Union, Carroll, Adu and Miglioranzi have also won championships during their MLS careers. One player that hasn’t is Mapp, even though the midfielder has reached the playoffs six times in his career.

Mapp’s closest chance came in 2003 when, as a 19-year-old, he played 20 minutes in the MLS Cup for the Chicago Fire, who lost to the San Jose Earthquakes.

“That was pretty special,” said Mapp, who came over to Philly last season after spending seven-and-a-half seasons in Chicago. “I had a number of other close calls, a lot of conference final losses, a lot of heartbreakers. But it’s a new year and hopefully we can get to where we want to go.”

Indeed, while Califf and others are fueled by the memories of what it’s like to win a title, Mapp is hungry to finally discover what that feels like after so many missed opportunities.

But regardless of past triumphs and failures, all of the team’s playoffs veterans appear equally eager to embark on another journey for the Cup.

“After getting there your first year, you’re thinking, ‘I’ll get back there a few more times, no big deal,” Mapp said. “But it’s not easy, and as the years go by, you only have a certain window of opportunity. So each year, you try to make the most of it. And hopefully we can do that this year.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at djzeitlin@gmail.com