CHESTER, Pa. – When the Philadelphia Union took the field against Toronto FC this past Saturday, they fielded a lineup that included only four players who played for them last year, and only two who began the 2010 season with the team.
When the game ended and the Union were celebrating a berth in the MLS Cup playoffs, Union fans were reminded once again how valuable the club’s newcomers are.
“It means a lot. It means I have integrated to the group very well,” one of the first-year players, Veljko Paunović, told MLSsoccer.com following the team’s 1-1 tie against Toronto. “I was always confident I was going to work for this team and be useful and I think I was. And I still think I can be useful for the playoffs. The feeling is very good.”
Like teammate Freddy Adu, Paunović came to the Union in the middle of the season with questions about where he’d fit in and how long it would take.
For others, like defender Carlos Valdés, they had an entire preseason to adjust to a new league, coaches and teammates.
But the goals for everyone have been the same.
“It’s important because this was one of the objectives we set this year,” said Valdés after the playoff berth was clinched. “Now we want to continue and win the conference and ultimately win the [MLS] Cup.”
Along with Valdés, preseason acquisitions Faryd Mondragón and Brian Carroll have been instrumental in the club’s turnaround from an expansion team to a playoff team. And that’s what the Union coaches expected from the trio of talented veterans.
Two other first-year starters have been more of a pleasant surprise: twin brothers Michael and Gabriel Farfan.
Gabriel has been the team’s starting left back since July, while Michael has emerged as one of the team’s top midfield threats over the past two months.
“Making the playoffs is one of the goals we set in the beginning of the year, so it’s exciting,” Michael said. “To be able to be a part of it is special.”
“It means the world to me,” Gabriel added. “I’m a competitor and I always want to win. For all of the guys, it shows the hard work we’ve put in all year. And it feels great knowing I played a huge role in the team’s success. It gives me a lot of confidence going into the playoffs.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at email@example.com.