CHESTER, Pa. – Ever since Raúl announced he was leaving Bundesliga side FC Schalke 04 and would look to continue his career outside of Europe, rumors have swirled about where the Spanish legend would land.
Could playing at PPL Park on Wednesday when the Union host FC Schalke in an international friendly (7:30 pm ET) help sway him to come to MLS? Union captain Danny Califf and other Philadelphia players believe it’s certainly possible.
“I think the more that he sees how good the league is and how good the facilities and the fans and all that stuff are, that’s certainly going to pique his interest,” Califf told MLSsoccer.com.
Other world-renowned stars have certainly been impressed by the atmosphere at PPL Park, one of the many soccer-specific stadiums across the league. When the Galaxy’s David Beckham first played at PPL, he compared it to playing an away game in Europe.
Still, according to Califf, who’s played in both America and Europe, there remain plenty of people who have preconceived notions regarding what Major League Soccer is all about – which is the main reason why international friendlies are so important.
“For the most part, a lot of European organizations and players are ignorant to what is going on here,” the Union captain said. “For us to be able to show them that there’s quality soccer, there’s quality facilities and quality support, I think that’s huge in growing the brand of [MLS].”
The Union’s past international games have not only put their fans and stadium on display but also quality soccer. In fact, the Union are 3-0 all-time in PPL friendlies, having already beaten Everton, Celtic and Chivas de Guadalajara, all by 1-0 margins.
Wednesday’s game will be one of the most anticipated exhibitions yet as it marks Raúl’s farewell game for Schalke.
Before going to Germany, Raúl was a star for La Liga powerhouse Real Madrid, where he set the all-time record for career goals and won three UEFA Champions League titles. He's also scored 44 international goals for Spain.
“Recently, I saw a documentary about him and his soccer career,” Union defender Carlos Valdés said. “He is a person to look up to because of his role at Real Madrid, where he started and achieved great things. He is a great person and his soccer skills are incredible. His abilities are something that not many forwards have.”
When asked about PPL Park perhaps influencing Raúl’s decision to play in MLS, Valdés hedged, saying it might be helpful but that it will probably ultimately come down to his family’s well-being.
One thing the Union defender didn’t hedge on is what it will be like to play on the same field as a soccer legend Wednesday.
“I’ve always wanted to live for moments like this one,” Valdés said. “I’ve dreamed of playing at this level and soccer is now giving me this opportunity and I’m going to take advantage of it.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org