CHESTER, Pa. – Carlos Valdés was exhausted when he flew directly to Houston from his native Colombia for the Philadelphia Union’s game against the Dynamo on Saturday.
But the Union captain also felt something else: happiness.
“I talked to him a little on Friday night and he was beaming with pride over what it meant to his country,” Union manager John Hackworth said. “I think he said, to paraphrase, that the whole country is having a party right now.”
The party got started when Colombia picked up an impressive 2-0 victory in a key World Cup qualifying game against Paraguay on Oct. 12. Valdés got the start in that game and played a full 90 minutes to help his team earn the shutout.
Colombia, who haven’t qualified for the World Cup since 1998, now have 16 points in eight games and sit third in CONMEBOL. They’ve outscored their opponents, 6-0, in the past two games Valdés has started.
“I’m really proud of Carlos,” Hackworth said. “I think it’s fantastic for them to be sitting [third] in qualification. It’s huge for the whole country.”
That said, it wasn’t an easy thing for Valdés to turn around and play an MLS game on Saturday – and, in some ways, it showed. A failed clearance attempt from the Union captain led to Houston’s first goal, and his controversial penalty in the box gave the Dynamo a PK that sealed their 3-1 win.
“I think it’s hard in a lot of ways,” Hackworth said. “One, it’s a long trip from South America and he got in on Friday evening. The other thing is it’s such a contrast in styles. If you watch the game in the South American qualifier, it’s a different game than the one played Saturday night. I think that’s a tough adjustment.”
Still, Hackworth noted, a lot of teams in the league have to deal with players leaving and returning from international duty. Those difficulties aside, the manager is proud to see his captain get called upon for such important games and get the opportunity to play alongside international superstars like Radamel Falcao, who scored both goals in Colombia’s win over Paraguay.
“I think he deserves it,” Hackworth said. “He’s had a fantastic year. He put himself in a great position on the team. He fought and won that position outright. It says a lot about Carlos and the year he’s had.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.