PHILADELPHIA — As he stood in the mixed zone doing interviews following the Philadelphia Union’s 2-1 loss to Real Madrid on Saturday, Michael Farfan felt a push from behind.
It was from smiling team manager Peter Nowak, who, after seeing what Farfan had just done, was almost certainly giving his player a love tap.
Playing against some of the most creative players in the world, Farfan showed that he has some tricks up his sleeve, too, scoring the club’s only goal with a cheeky chip over Madrid ‘keeper Tomás Mejías in the 80th minute.
“I saw he was a little off his line, so I decided to try to chip it,” said Farfan, a rookie midfielder out of the University of North Carolina. “It felt great. They’re probably one of the best teams in the world, so it was exciting for all of us.”
The tricky play may have been surprising to some of the 57,305 fans that were probably expecting to see more fireworks from Cristiano Ronaldo than from a Union reserve player. But it wasn’t at all surprising to the one player on the field that knows him best.
“As soon as he picked his head up, I knew what he was doing,” said Union left back Gabriel Farfan, who’s seen his twin brother take that shot in countless games growing up. “It was great to see the ball go in. I’m beyond excited for him. He came in and made a difference in the game.”
While Gabriel has been a fixture in the starting lineup of late — having taken over, at least temporarily, for departed left back Jordan Harvey — Michael has seen his playing time slip, in large part due to the club’s midfield depth.
The UNC product has not started since playing a full 90 (and earning his first career assist) vs. Real Salt Lake on June 11 — and in that six-game span, he’s played a total of just 79 minutes off the bench.
Michael, like other youngsters on the squad, can only hope that his performances in the team’s last two friendlies — he played the entire second half vs. Real Madrid and against Everton FC last Wednesday — will help get back into the regular rotation.
“It’s a good thing,” he said. “Everyone should play with confidence; that’s when you play your best. I think this will help me going forward.”
But if nothing else, he’ll always have the memory of his brilliant goal on one of the biggest stages he’s ever played on. Real Madrid will probably remember it, too.
“It was fantastic,” Union defender Danny Califf said. “It was dirty. Just dirty.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.