Philadelphia Union Designated Player Cristian "Chaco" Maidana draws rave reviews in MLS debut

It didn’t take too long for Cristian “Chaco” Maidana to fit right in with his new teammates.

In his MLS debut Saturday, the Argentine midfielder looked to be the kind of playmaker the Union have always craved, making a handful of nifty passes and setting up the team’s only goal in a 1-1 draw with the Portland Timbers.

Everything clicked so well, it surprised even him.

“I felt really good playing with everyone,” Maidana said in Spanish after the game. “I was a little surprised because we played so well without any real errors, except for the end [when the Timbers tied the game in stoppage time]. But in reality, I think we surprised as a team. And if we keep playing the way we did, we’re going to go very far.”

When Maidana was signed as a Designated Player two months ago, he was initially touted as someone who would mostly play on the left wing. But the 27-year-old veteran proved he’s capable of so much more than that, playing in more of a central role – and also on the right – while making some terrific runs down the middle of the pitch.

That flexibility seemed to surprise the Timbers, who had some trouble dealing with a revamped Union midfield that also features fellow newcomers Maurice Edu and Frenchman Vincent Nogueira.

“I would say that Chaco, you see a lot of the creativity that he brings to the team and the quality touches and the service is important for us,” Union manager John Hackworth said. “But then I also think there were guys like Vincent Nogueira who had a really good game. And in the same regard, Mo Edu and Brian Carroll did a tremendous job blocking holes and playing out of tough spaces in the middle. So it was a good overall performance.”

While the newcomers all showcased their abilities, it was Union original Jack McInerney that perhaps benefited the most from Maidana’s creativity.

In the fifth minute, Maidana made a terrific run before feeding it to McInerney, and in the 32nd minute the Argentine midfielder played a perfect weighted ball to McInerney, whose cheeky chip shot went just wide.

In between that, Maidana made a great turn at the edge of the box and blasted a shot that Timbers goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts needed to dive to save. Later, in the 64th minute, Ricketts made another diving stop on Maidana, who cut to the left before firing one on net.

Moments after that Ricketts save, Maidana placed a corner kick right on the head of Edu, who headed it toward net, where McInerney was waiting to flick it in and open his 2014 scoring account.

“He’s a very technical player,” McInerney said of Maidana. “He likes to come in underneath and once he gets the ball, I like to make the runs in behind because he looks for me. He’s a deadly player and I think it’s going to be fun playing with him throughout the year.”

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