CHESTER, Pa. — Philadelphia Union manager Peter Nowak likes to joke that Michael and Gabriel Farfan play rock-paper-scissors to determine which one will be ready to play any given game.
The Farfan twins would prefer that to what’s really the case: how, for the past month, one of them always seems to be injured while the other is healthy.
Since May 21, when both played in a 2-1 win over Chicago, the Union’s rookie brothers have alternated spots in the starting midfield, with Gabriel getting the call for back-to-back games — on May 28 vs. Toronto and June 4 vs. Colorado — while Michael nursed a right groin strain. And then Michael starting last Saturday against Real Salt Lake while Gabriel sat with a pulled quad.
“It’s funny — he has his little joke,” Gabriel said of Nowak’s running rock-paper-scissors routine. “That’s just the way it’s worked out. I guess it’s just a coincidence.”
Gabriel, who also missed time early in the season with a dislocated toe, admitted the timing of his most recent injury was frustrating, considering how well he had been playing. He scored his first MLS goal in Toronto — a week after Michael opened his own account — and showed Union fans the kind of ability and creativity he possesses.
He’s currently listed as doubtful for Saturday’s game against the Whitecaps at Empire Field (10 pm ET, watch LIVE online).
“It’s bad timing, but these are the things we have to deal with as professionals,” said Gabriel, who felt the pull in his quad while crossing balls last Thursday. “I think it’s pretty minor. I caught it before it turned into something bigger.”
Gabriel isn’t sure when he’ll be back but Nowak said in his weekly press conference on Wednesday that the rookie midfielder was making “huge progress.” In the meantime, Michael should do a fine job occupying a place in the midfield, as he’s done whenever he’s been healthy.
The Union should also soon get a midfield boost from the return of Amobi Okugo, who’s recovering nicely from a high ankle sprain he suffered last month. Okugo will miss his fifth straight game Saturday, but is shooting to return for the club’s home game against Sporting Kansas City next Wednesday.
“I’ve been jogging and running and stuff like that but I’m still working on the lateral stuff,” Okugo said from training earlier this week. “It still hurts when I go side to side.
“I should be back soon,” the Union holding midfielder added. “I’m trying to recover as soon as possible.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.