Michael Farfan never dreamed his first trip to England would be a business trip.
But that’s precisely how things worked out for the Philadelphia Union midfielder, who voyaged across the Atlantic Ocean last month to embark on a two-week training stint with the English Premier League side Sunderland.
Farfan returned just in time for the start of the Union preseason.
“It was nice to live out there and see what it’s like,” Farfan told MLSsoccer.com. “On every channel, there’s soccer being played. I’m glad I had the opportunity to do it.”
Farfan also watched some live EPL action from the stands, going to a Sunderland-Swansea City game and a Manchester United-Bolton contest. He loved the atmosphere at those games but he also made sure to tell his temporary teammates at Sunderland that the atmosphere at PPL Park isn’t too bad, either.
“I talked to them pretty much every day in the locker room,” Farfan said. “They had questions about MLS and I had questions for them. They asked what the level is like, what the atmosphere is like. [I told them] our place is awesome and Philadelphia is the place to be.”
Farfan is one of a handful of Union players to get some overseas training in during the offseason, joining Danny Mwanga (Aston Villa), Zac MacMath (Everton), Freddy Adu (Rayo Vallecano), Amobi Okugo (SC Freiburg) and Zach Pfeffer (Hoffenheim). Ex-Union forward Sébastien Le Toux also spent time with Bolton before being traded to Vancouver.
For all of them, it was a good way to stay sharp while soaking in a new culture. And for Farfan, who trained with the Sunderland reserves during most of his stay, it was also a good way to test his mettle against players from one of the world’s most renowned leagues.
“I don’t think it was any change of play compared to here,” he said. “It was a good level and I held my own.”
Upon returning to the US, Farfan’s focus immediately shifted back to helping the Union and improving on his impressive first MLS season when he was a Rookie of the Year finalist.
Perhaps in the long term, though, he’ll think about going to England for more than just two weeks at a time.
“Everyone has a dream of one day playing in Europe,” Farfan said. “I think at some point it would be nice to go over there and live out the dream.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Philadelphia Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org