ORLANDO, Fla. – Off the field, Michael Farfan is soft-spoken, at least with a reporter’s microphone in his face. On the field, the Philadelphia Union hope this is the year that the 24-year-old playmaker becomes assertive enough to take full advantage of his talents.
There’s no doubt the keys to the Union attack are firmly in Farfan’s hands after a breakout year that saw him seize a place in John Hackworth’s starting lineup and play in the the MLS All-Star Game in front of his home fans.
With Sébastien Le Toux back in the fold after a year bouncing between Vancouver and New York, Conor Casey around to provide hold-up play and 2012 leading scorer Jack McInerney itching to hit double-digit goals, the time is now for Farfan to take ownership of Philly’s creative burden.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing Michael kind of take over,” Hackworth told MLSsoccer.com. “This will be a preseason where he understands that role and he knows that our style will go through him a little bit. … He has some creativity and some flair. He uses imagination and goes on these mazy, dribbling runs that nobody can do twice.”
And although unpredictability is certainly a hallmark of the San Diego native’s game. It’s the predictability that he enjoyed under Hackworth that truly allowed Farfan to make the transition from rookie role player to second-year starter.
Instead of filling gaps, the former assistant turned head coach plugged his young attacking midfielder into the space behind the forwards – and kept him there.
“My second season I enjoyed a lot because I actually had a specific role,” said Farfan, whose minutes jumped from 1,460 to 2,802 from 2011 to 2012. “My first year I was kind of put in different situations and wherever we needed a guy. I didn’t really have a specific position. It was nice to know where I was going to be playing game in and game out and be able to prepare a little bit more as to what I needed to do on the field.”
Unfortunately, the jump in playing time didn’t equate to a corresponding jump in production, something Farfan brings up without prompting.
After scoring two goals and collecting three assists as a rookie in scattered time on the field, although with more attacking talent surrounding him, Farfan found the back of the net just once in 2012 – a game-winner against the Galaxy in LA – to go along with five assists.
He readily admits that has to improve for the Union to reach their lofty goals.
“I need to be a little bit more productive in the final third, whether it be helping create goals by assists or producing goals myself,” Farfan said. “The biggest thing is productivity.”
Fortunately, Hackworth is adamant that Philadelphia want to “build around what he’s good at.”
And while Farfan understands the pressure that a statement like that brings, he says he’s excited to meet the challenge head on and feels more confident with each game he plays.
That’s good news for players like Le Toux, whose fortunes are tied to the player expected the pull the majority of the strings while teams devote more and more resources to stopping him.
“I’m sure some people are going to be looking for [Michael] and marking him a little more closely than they used to,” Le Toux said. “I don’t think he minds. I think he likes this pressure and he wants to grow up as a player and keep getting better.”