CHESTER, Pa. – For the Philadelphia Union, the defensive foursome of Danny Califf, Carlos Valdés, Jordan Harvey and Sheanon Williams has been rock-solid and completely durable in the back.
For the first time this season, however, another Union defender was called to action – and the club didn’t skip a beat.
With Harvey ejected after receiving a controversial red card during the first half of Saturday’s game against the San Jose Earthquakes, rookie Michael Farfan came on to fill Harvey’s left fullback spot. The Union went on to post a 1-0 victory for their fourth shutout of the year, and Farfan received rave reviews.
“He did a fantastic job,” Califf told MLSsoccer.com. “He came in and played with a lot of confidence. He was strong in his tackles and he knew when to step up and when to stay back. I can’t say enough about the kid.”
With the Union down a man, Farfan was asked to do a lot when he came on as a halftime substitute. Not only did he need to help the back line protect the shutout, he also needed to provide an attacking presence on the left flank while the club decided to continue to push forward despite their disadvantage in numbers.
According to Union manager Peter Nowak, the rookie did both jobs admirably.
“Big praise goes to Michael Farfan,” Nowak said. “We wanted to make sure to keep our composure and have the chance to go forward with Michael’s speed. Basically we played three in the back because he was coming up and down.”
Farfan had already played a full 90 minutes in the Union’s US Open qualifying loss to D.C. United last month, but stepping into an official league game was, admittedly, different. The rookie said he felt both nervous and excited when he was told at halftime that he’d be making his league debut.
“Playing in front of the Sons of Ben is awesome,” Farfan said following the game. “To be at home with so many people on your side is an amazing feeling. Also to be 0-0, down a man, and winning the game is pretty special.”
The significance of the moment aside, Farfan said he felt comfortable at fullback, even though it’s a new position for him. Like fellow rookie Ryan Richter, who made his debut on the gameday roster Saturday, Farfan has been converted from offense to defense to give the club more depth on the back line.
“It’s not too different – just a little more defending,” said Farfan, the team’s second-round pick out of the University of North Carolina. “It’s nice to play with left backs and right backs that can get forward and help on the attack as well.”
Farfan will likely continue to be the team’s top fullback option off the bench, meaning he could start Friday in Portland if Harvey’s one-game suspension is not overturned. What his role will be in the future, however, is not something the rookie was immediately thinking about after the game.
“You never know,” Farfan said. “I was just excited to get out there. We’ll see what happens from here.”