Califf to don Philadelphia armband, but wants backup

Danny Califf

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WAYNE, Pa. – For the second time in three years, Danny Califf will serve as captain of the Philadelphia Union.

Now, the defender only asks for a little help in the leadership department.

Shortly after Union manager Peter Nowak revealed that Califf would take back the armband in the wake of 2011 captain Faryd Mondragón’s departure, the veteran defender expressed some concern about the lack of experience on the 2012 squad.

With the recent exits of Mondragón, Sébastien Le Toux, Veljko Paunović and Stefani Miglioranzi – who have more than 60 years of professional experience between them – the 31-year-old Califf and 30-year-old midfielder Brian Carroll are the only remaining Union players older than 27.

And aside from them and Freddy Adu, no one on the club has played in MLS for more than two seasons.

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“In any sport, there’s always a period of the season when things hit the skids a little bit,” Califf said. “It’s those times when you need guys who don’t get all panicked and that know you’ll be able to right the ship at some point. That’s gonna fall a lot on Brian and I, but hopefully in the near future we can add a couple of guys who will make it a little bit easier on us.”

Whether or not the club decides to add more veterans as Califf hopes, Nowak seems confident that new leaders will emerge on the current group. The Union manager mentioned Carroll, 26-year-old defender Carlos Valdés, 27-year-old midfielder Gabriel Gómez and even 21-year-old defender Sheanon Williams as possible players to wear the armband if Califf is unavailable for any game.

But with an average age of 22.6, there’s no denying the Union have fewer options for captain than most MLS teams.

“It certainly makes the line shorter to the armband,” Carroll said. “But I’ve been in this role before where I have to be one of the players with veteran leadership and take on the role as captain. I’ve done that with Columbus both in league and Champions League situations. It won’t be anything new; just a different group of guys.”

Califf knows what it’s like to wear the armband too, having served as the Union’s first captain in 2010 and then again for a seven-game stretch when Mondragón was hurt last season. He called it an honor any time “you get to slip it over your arm and lead the team” and believes the backline, which should remain mostly intact, will remain “the rock of the team again this year.”

And while he’s certainly concerned about the roster turnover – something he specifically said he did not want to see happen at the end of last season – the captain has grown more confident in the prospects for the 2012 campaign, despite the club’s youth.

“I was worried with the amount of transition we had,” Califf said. “That was a big issue for me last year because I really did think we had a tremendous locker room. But coming in and seeing these guys and meeting them and seeing their personalities, I’m definitely not nearly as worried as I was coming in. I think the guys coming in are quality individuals and will make our team stronger. I’m excited about it.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Philadelphia Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at djzeitlin@gmail.com