CHESTER, Pa. – When Toronto FC defender Danny Califf returns to PPL Park for Saturday’s game against the Philadelphia Union (4 pm ET, watch FREE on MLSsoccer.com's Stream of the Week presented by El Jimidor), he’ll see many of his former teammates lined up on the other side of the field.
But perhaps the best matchup will be Califf pitted against someone he never played with during his two-plus years in Philly: Union striker Conor Casey.
“Those guys are veterans who have played against each other and have played with each other on the national team,” Union manager John Hackworth told MLSsoccer.com. “They get it. They know it. I think you’ll see both of them battling. And it could be an epic battle.”
The two MLS veterans have certainly squared off over the past few years, when Casey was in Colorado and Califf in Philly. Long before that, they were roommates at the 2000 Olympics, beginning a friendship that’s lasted more than a decade.
“It will be fun,” Casey said. “I’ve known Danny for a long time. It’s always enjoyable to play against him. I’m looking forward to getting out there.”
One reason why Hackworth anticipates an “epic battle” between Casey and Califf is because of how both of the hard-nosed, physical players like to play.
And on Saturday, whether or not Califf can stop Casey from finding the back of the net or creating a goal could turn out to one of the game’s deciding factors. In Philly’s 1-1 draw with Columbus last weekend, Casey was partnered up top with Jack McInerney and helped set up McInerney’s goal by using his size to shield a defender and flick the ball toward the end line.
“We’re both bigger guys,” Casey said. “I’m sure it will be a physical battle like it always is. We both welcome it.”
And then, of course, after the game the two players will become friendly again. The same goes for everyone else on the Union who grew strong friendships with Califf, the club’s first captain who was controversially traded away by former manager Peter Nowak last May.
“I know Danny Califf is super motivated coming back to PPL Park,” said Hackworth, who has a good relationship with Califf. “He was a bit of a fan favorite here, and that’s probably an understatement. He did such an important job for this club early in our organization’s history. But he’s playing for the wrong team Saturday.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.