CHESTER, Pa. — As MLS veterans and long-time pool members for the US national team, Philadelphia Union defender Danny Califf and Colorado Rapids midfielder Pablo Mastroeni have been friends for awhile.
After this weekend’s action, though, their relationship took a hit — literally.
Early in the second half, with the Union-Rapids game scoreless, Califf was whistled for a foul on Mastroeni in the penalty box, a call that led to a PK goal from Conor Casey and a 1-0 Rapids lead. Replays showed the call was questionable, and afterwards Califf expressed his displeasure with his old friend for what he perceived to be a dive.
“I reached around and got the ball with my right foot and had my hand on his opposite shoulder,” Califf said following practice Tuesday. “As soon as he felt my hand, he crumpled. I wasn’t too happy with Pablo after that play.”
What Califf was happy with was his team’s resolve in tying the game three minutes later and escaping Colorado with a point. He also knows there’s no use complaining very much about players trying to draw penalties, a tactic as old as the sport itself.
“It’s part of the game,” Califf said. “It happens. The ref bit. Referees are going to bite. That’s why people do it. It’s fair enough that [Mastroeni] got the referee to bite. It doesn’t mean I have to like it. That’s the way it goes.”
Califf hasn’t spoken with Mastroeni since the foul, but it shouldn’t damage their relationship too much long-term. Califf has a lot of history with both Mastroeni and Casey, the latter of whom he roomed with at the 2000 Olympics.
But the friendly relationship typically takes a break for 90 minutes at a time.
“They’re great guys but when they step across the line — and I’m the same way — we’re not buddies,” Califf said of Mastroeni and Casey. “Conor elbowed the crap out of me on the first corner of the game. It’s no holds barred out there.”
So in a way, Califf can understand why Mastroeni did whatever he could to help his team get the lead. Still, calls like those, whether they’re justified or not, won’t affect how the Union’s aggressive central defender plays his game.
“It’s not going to change anything with me,” Califf said with a smile. “I get paid to run around and kick people.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.