CHESTER, Pa. – It was almost as if he had never left.
In front of a sold-out PPL Park crowd chanting his name, Carlos Valdes successfully anchored the Philadelphia Union backline Saturday night just as he did so many times in 2011 and 2012, guiding Philly to an important 2-1 win over the Montreal Impact.
It was only later that the Colombian center back revealed that playing just a few days after returning to Philly after a one-and-a-half-year loan spell in South America was a struggle.
“To be honest, I felt very tired,” said Valdes, whose last competitive game was when Colombia played Japan in their final World Cup group-stage match on June 24. “For some moments of the game, I felt like my body was heavy. The confidence was coming because of the people, because of the fans who like the way that I play. I was trying to do the best that I could.”
Union interim manager Jim Curtin, who pushed hard for Valdes’ return ever since taking over two months ago, knew the center back might need some time to adjust and told him before the game to “keep it simple.”
Even still, Valdes looked just like the player that led the Union to the playoffs in 2011 and made the MLS All-Star Game in 2012.
“Carlos was excellent,” Curtin said. “He was a beast back there. He wins all his battles. He doesn’t try to do too much passing out of the back for his first game back. … He’s familiar with some of the guys, but it’s been a while. So for him to come into the group and play that well for us, I was very, very happy.”
One player Valdes needed to get familiar with quickly was Ethan White, a first-year Union defender who was partnered next to him at center back. White admitted “we couldn’t get our chemistry yet,” but was optimistic about the pairing moving forward, if that’s the direction Curtin decides to go with his backline.
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“He’s played with a bunch of different players; I’ve played with a bunch of different players,” said White, who’s started the last five games after not playing a minute in 2014 before that. “I haven’t been playing with the same player for six years. It’s like a new employee at work. It’ll take some time, but it’ll come along.”
Valdes, too, recognized the partnership needs more time to develop but predicted, “We’ll start to be better every day.” In the meantime, he was grateful to the fans for helping him through his first MLS game since 2012 by chanting his name, holding up a “Welcome Back” sign and erupting into huge cheers when he was introduced in the starting lineups.
“I’m very thankful to the people,” Valdes said. “It was a great day. I had a good experience because the people were fantastic. All I can say is, ‘Thank you for everything.’”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at email@example.com.