CHESTER, Pa. – An even bigger surprise than the Philadelphia Union being in first place in the Eastern Conference through 13 games is that they’ve done so much of their damage early without their marquee offseason addition: Mexican international midfielder Marco Fabian.
Fabian, who became the highest-paid player in franchise history when he signed on a free transfer from Eintracht Frankfurt in February, has missed more than half of the Union’s games. He served a two-game suspension for a red card in his second MLS game and suffered an ankle injury against the LA Galaxy on April 13. He then re-aggravated the injury in his first game back, against Toronto FC two weeks ago.
“To be honest, I don’t feel very happy,” Fabian said this week of his season so far. “I want to stay on the pitch and help the team. It’s my first year here and my new team and you want to do everything and show the fans what you can do.”
The 29-year-old has a pair of goals, one a penalty kick in the season opener and another from the run of play against FC Cincinnati, but has missed from the penalty spot twice. The Union have gone unbeaten in the seven games he’s missed (4 wins, 3 draws) thanks to the emergence of 18-year-old Homegrown midfielder Brenden Aaronson and Jamiro Monteiro, who arrived on loan from FC Metz early in the year.
“Marco brings a certain amount of quality on the ball that a coach really can’t teach,” head coach Jim Curtin said. “His ability to shoot in and around the box, how goal dangerous he is. He hits the ball with both feet right and left foot. I could allude to the quality against Cincinnati where he has the ability in the box to deceptively make a guy miss and just calmly finish off a chance. You miss the goals and the offensive production that he produces.”
If there’s a stat that best describes what his absences have meant to the team, it can found in the shots column of the team stat sheet. Despite missing more than half the team’s games, Fabian is second on the team in shots with 25.
This has been in part because of the striker-by-committee feel the roster has had with injuries and absences across the front line. Jamaican international striker Cory Burke is out with visa issues and Brazilian striker Sergio Santos has missed significant time with injury. Eleven different players have scored. David Accam, who was traded earlier this month, still leads the team with four goals while Kacper Przybylko is second with three.
Fabian returned to training on Thursday with the hopes of getting back into the lineup for Wednesday’s game against the Colorado Rapids. He also has the Gold Cup to think about. He was included on Mexico’s 29-player preliminary roster, but it remains an open question whether he’ll be part of Gerardo “Tata” Martino’s squad when they kick off against Cuba at the Rose Bowl on June 15.
Whether he’s on international duty or still with the Union next month, he’s someone Philly will be counting on to lead them to new heights.
“When he’s playing at his maximum, he’s a player that is as good as anybody in our league and that’s the end goal,” Curtin said. “It’s not critical that we peak now in May, but it is critical that Marco is playing his best soccer once October rolls around.”