CHESTER, Pa. – Probably one of the smartest things the Philadelphia Union players could have done this week was leave their suitcases packed.
Just days after returning from California, the Union are gearing up for another cross-country flight – this time to Washington state – for Saturday’s game against the Seattle Sounders at CenturyLink Field (10 pm ET, watch online).
If you’re scoring at home, that’s more than 10,000 round-trip miles in less than a week for the Union (10-7-14, 44 points), who are trying to close on the club's first playoff berth. And the benefits of earning frequent flyer miles are far outweighed by the unavoidable physical challenges that playing back-to-back games on the West Coast presents.
“You cannot fool your body,” Union manager Peter Nowak said. “As much as you want to play your best soccer that your brain likes to do, your legs and lungs are not gonna do it. ... The travel part is still the challenging part, but I believe we will recover well in the next couple of days.”
A two-game West Coast swing is certainly difficult, especially this late in the season when players’ legs are starting to get heavier anyway. And like most teams, the Union have trouble playing far from home. In franchise history, they’ve yet to win in the Pacific Time Zone, losing six and tying three.
“Obviously, it’s tough,” fullback Gabriel Farfan said. “It takes a toll on anyone’s body. But you’ve got to take care of business and you can’t be making excuses. Whether it’s travel or fatigue, you’ve just got to get the job done.”
While long trips are even tougher for rookies like Farfan, who are not used to so much travel and such long seasons, there are some benefits, as well. For instance, this past Sunday against Chivas USA, Farfan and twin brother Michael got a chance to play their first professional game near their native San Diego.
The Farfan brothers previously made the trip to the Home Depot Center for Philly’s game vs. the Galaxy in April, but neither saw action. Against Chivas, they both played a full 90.
“It was awesome – just amazing,” Gabriel Farfan said. “We had more than 75 people there. I heard most of my family cheering in different sections.”
The Union fullback is now ready for another first: playing inside the very large and very loud CenturyLink Field. Even if the trip there will be taxing, he expects to get a boost once he arrives at one of the league’s best stadium atmospheres.
“I’m really excited,” Farfan said. “I’ve seen the atmosphere on TV and I’m pretty stoked to be part of a game out there.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.