CHESTER, Pa. – It didn’t take long for Cristian Maidana to remind the Philadelphia Union what they had been missing.
After sitting out three straight games with a left MCL sprain and then playing only six minutes in his first game back on April 11, the attacking midfielder has logged an assist and a goal in his last two contests, adding a much-needed creative dimension to Philly’s inconsistent attack.
“When I got injured, I knew I was going to miss three to four key games,” Maidana told MLSsoccer.com through a translator following Wednesday’s training session. “And we knew we could have won those games. But that’s already in the past, so I just have to keep my head high and think about what’s coming up next.”
What’s next is a big Eastern Conference clash against the Columbus Crew at MAPFRE Stadium on Saturday (7:30 pm ET; MLS LIVE). And after easing him back into the rotation over the last week, Union head coach Jim Curtin indicated that he’s prepared to unleash Maidana and ask him to not only serve as the team’s top playmaker but also put in the defensive work to limit Columbus' touches deep in central midfield.
“When you think back to last year when he had the stretch when he was in form, he was able to go 90 minutes,” Curtin said. “That’s what we’re looking to get back to [because] we’re at our best when he’s on the field. That is a certainty.”
Curtin admitted there are some “highs and lows in terms of fitness and ground covered” for Maidana, who picks his moments and doesn’t always like to do what the Union coach called “dirty running.”
But during Sunday’s 2-1 loss to the New England Revolution, the Argentinean showcased his unique ability to make something out of nothing when he perfectly bended a free kick into the corner of the net from about 30 yards out.
“I’m a little salty that didn’t make SportsCenter,” teammate Michael Lahoud said. “He’s a special player. He’s a guy that brings so much to our team. And getting him back in the mix is going to be huge.”
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The goal itself was a special one for Maidana, who had never before scored at PPL Park and was celebrating his daughter’s fifth birthday that day. And although he said he still feels “a little pain” from his lingering knee injury, he knows that scoring that free-kick goal and feeling the energy of PPL Park should help him get back into the swing of things.
“It was one of my best goals,” he said. “I don’t have that many goals in my career, but it was one of the best ones. And there are still plenty of weeks left so I can score many more.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at email@example.com.