On the same day Carlos Valdés was introduced to Philadelphia Union fans last month, Diego Gutiérrez made sure everyone knew the potential impact of the new acquisition.
“Really, he should be one of the best defenders in the league right off the bat,” said Gutiérrez, the club’s head of scouting and player development.
Only time will tell if that prediction comes true, but early indications coming out of the Union camp are very positive.
Not only has Valdés shown the skill that made him a star in his native Colombia but also he's been doing all the right things to mesh with his new teammates.
“I can tell you that first impressions are always the right ones, and as soon as we got him, we saw what he could do,” Union manager Peter Nowak said. “You always have doubts about how it’s going to work out in a new environment, but Carlos is a consummate professional, even being 25 years old. I don’t wonder why he was a captain on his previous two teams in Colombia.”
Valdés also won championships on those two Colombian teams, Independiente Santa Fe and América de Cali, so he comes into MLS as an established winner. And the central back has picked up a lot of tricks to the trade during his five-year professional career, including appearances with the Colombian national team.
“He’s very sophisticated in the tactical part,” Nowak said. “He has pure instincts and loves to defend. The most important thing for him is to win the ball against the striker and to move the ball forward.
“He’s very strong, very competitive. He doesn’t let anyone off the hook.”
Union captain Danny Califf, who will likely anchor the center of the defense alongside Valdés, noted there are typically some difficulties at first when a foreign player is thrown into the mix. In this case, however, he doesn’t have many concerns.
“There certainly is a language barrier,” Califf said. “But I think over the course of (the preseason) when we’re together he’s going to pick up soccer English.”
For Nowak, there hasn’t been much of a language barrier at all.
“He speaks English and understands every single request of the coaching staff,” the Union manager said.
The only thing, it seems, that Valdés may need to learn about are the other sports in this country. Last week, his teammates told him he looked like Ray Lewis, and his manager believes the central defender has other things in common with the Baltimore Ravens star linebacker, too.
Said Nowak, “He’s the same kind of competitive player as Ray Lewis.”