With four midfielders injured and another playing in the Gold Cup, the Philadelphia Union were forced to play a few deep reserves for their two-game road trip last week.
But no one was asked to do more than rookie Leo Fernandes, who made the first two MLS starts of his career, logging 86 minutes in Wednesday’s 2-2 draw with Real Salt Lake and 71 minutes in Saturday’s 1-0 loss to Houston.
“It was a great opportunity for me,” Fernandes told MLSsoccer.com by phone Tuesday. “It was like a dream come true.”
If starting two games wasn’t daunting enough for a rookie who had previously played a grand total of one MLS minute, Fernandes also had to deal with the Salt Lake City altitude and the Houston heat.
And with pretty much all of the team’s central midfielders out of commission – including Keon Daniel (Gold Cup), Michael Farfan (left ankle contusion), Kleberson (right quad strain) and Michael Lahoud (sports hernia surgery) – Fernandes was asked to pull the strings in the middle of the field.
“It was probably one of the toughest conditions [I could play in],” he said. “But I felt like I did well. So I’ll now be ready for anything.”
Fernandes – who was drafted by the Union in the last round of the 2013 Supplemental Draft out of Stony Brook University – was first told he’d be added to the starting lineup from the team hotel the same day as the RSL game.
According to Fernandes, manager John Hackworth told him to play underneath striker Conor Casey and try to hold the ball up and win possession. Fernandes thanked him for the opportunity and was generally happy with how he performed.
“I think I did pretty good,” he said. “I’m just disappointed we couldn’t get the results we wanted. But I’m hoping more opportunities will come in the future. And I’ll be ready.”
When those opportunities come again likely depends on when Farfan, Kleberson, Lahoud and Danny Cruz (left hip contusion) return to full health. All four were questionable for Saturday’s game in Houston, so some of them may be able to return for Friday’s game vs. Chivas USA at PPL Park (7:30 pm ET; MLS LIVE).
But regardless of the statuses of other players, Fernandes hopes to continue to play more as the season progresses, especially as a central midfielder.
“I just like the idea of having the ball at my feet,” he said. “I like to control possession and try to make the game. I’d like to play there again.”