CHESTER, Pa. — Less than a year-and-a-half ago, Carlos Valdés wasn’t even an MLS player.
Today, he is the captain of an MLS team.
Following last week’s trade of Danny Califf to Chivas USA, the Colombian center back took over full-time captain duties for the Philadelphia Union, continuing his rapid ascent in a league that not long ago was as foreign to him as Philly cheesesteaks.
“It’s a huge responsibility for me,” Valdés told MLSsoccer.com. “But I feel capable of completing the duties and returning the favor to the coaching staff for trusting in me. I feel like this is an opportunity to demonstrate my capabilities and abilities and prove to them why they brought me here in the first place.”
POWER 5: Valdes a rock for Union
When Valdés first arrived in Philly last year, it was unknown what kind of impact he would make and even how long he would stay, considering he joined the team on loan from the Colombian side Independiente Sante Fe.
Since then, however, the Union have secured complete contractual rights to Valdés, who has emerged as one of the league’s top center backs. The 26-year-old defender also quickly picked up the culture and language, which has helped him become a stabilizing presence on the backline as well as a solid voice in the locker room.
“With a lot of young guys on the team we need leaders – and Carlos is one of them,” said fellow center back Sheanon Williams. “He’s done a good job leading the team so far and has definitely helped out a lot of the young guys. Even with me and some of the other guys on the backline, he’s always talking to us, always having conversations. He’s just the kind of person that wants everyone to succeed. He’s what you want in a captain.”
Valdés is the third captain in Union history, following in the footsteps of Califf and Colombian countryman Faryd Mondragón, who wore the armband during his one season in Philly last year. Califf was the Union’s first captain in 2010 and the choice again this season after Mondragón returned to Colombia.
“Danny showed me what it meant to be a player on this team from the things he did,” Valdés said. “The way he prepared for games was the best preparation I could get from him. I couldn’t have had a better teacher than him.”
While Valdés says wearing the armband fills him with “great satisfaction,” he also knows it comes with a price. And if the Union are to climb the standings after a disappointing 2-6-2 start, he will have to be one of the players that leads the charge.
“There’s huge pressure,” he said, “because I’m directly responsible for guiding this team to better results.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com.