(Photo: Nicolae Stoian)
Editor’s note: At the end of the 2010 season, we posted a series of raves “Raves” about our favorite Philadelphia players. They need not be the team’s best players, but they’re guys and gals we like. Over the next two weeks, we continue the series again with some of the PSP writers and contributors favorite players of 2011.
From The Philly Soccer Page Field Guide to North American Soccer (unpublished):
Unnamed Trialist (Speculationis causamagis): Species of Soccer Player in the genus Professional Athlete typically seen early January through mid March in North America, although occasional sightings are sometimes made during the courting season soccer biologists refer to as “the secondary transfer window.” The unnamed trialist has a cousin, the “unnamed reserve league player” (Speculationis causaminorem), typically seen April through October. Biological links to the species of soccer player that include “transfer target”(Rarius accidit) and “transfer rumor” (Ridiculum fabulis) are tentative and remain unproven.
The dreadlock guy
He came into training camp under the radar, unannounced and unidentified, one of several “unnamed trialists.” PSP photographer Nicolae Stoian was at the opening day of training camp at YSC and soon bloggers and readers of blogs were looking at his pictures and those of others, trying their level best to remove the “un” from “unnamed.” I wrote at the time in response to a reader’s comment on Nicolae’s photo essay, “It’s driving me nuts who the dreadlock guy might be – Nicolae said he looked very good.”
After early indecision over whether “the dreadlock guy” was one Keon “Schillaci” Daniel or Brian Ombiji of the Harrisburg City Islanders, consensus was reached that he was indeed Keon Daniel. Getting confirmation from the club was another thing and so, as the team traveled to far away Orlando, and even farther away Greece, the reading of the tea leaves continued as we all pored over every cryptic match report from the club, and every photo collection the club posted on their Facebook page, in the drive to figure out which of the trialists was actually still with the club (while also trying to solve the Michael Orozco Fiscal mystery). Yes, some of us do ridiculous things with our spare time.
Finally, on March 19, official confirmation that the guy with the dreads was who we thought he was came with the announcement that Keon Daniel, along with Gabriel Farfan and Levi Houapeu, had been signed by the Union.
We had confirmation of his name, but what did we know about him? Onward to the interweb!
- Trialist with Manchester United and West Ham? Check.
- Trinidad and Tobago national team squad since 2007? Check.
- Member of the 2010 USL champion Puerto Rico Islanders? Check.
- Nickname is in fact “Schillaci,” after famed Italian striker Salvatore Schillaci? Check.
Some of the details were intriguing, that’s for sure. “He recently led the Soca Warriors with four goals during 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifying,” said the signing announcement on the Union website, “the same number as MLS stars Landon Donovan, Brian Ching and Álvaro Saborío.” But few Union fans could honestly claim to have seen him play.
The game in LA, the third of the season after opening with two wins, wasn’t going very well for the Union. It was longballs over a congested midfield to a three striker set that featured an intermittently interested Carlos Ruiz, a closely marked and confused Danny Mwanga, and a working-way-too-hard Sebastien Le Toux. After going up a goal in the 24th minute, the Galaxy were content to let the Union pass it along the backline and wait for turnovers from hopeful longballs both on the ground and in the air, or simply turn up the pressure and create the turnovers themselves when the Union tried to build up through a congested middle.
Daniel made his first MLS appearance at the start of the half, coming on for Mwanga. And, suddenly… There was width. And not only that, there was composure. And control. And positive possession. Have I mentioned size and speed?
After 45 minutes on the pitch, Daniel had completed 27 of 28 passes, a completion rate of 96 percent. And all but six of those passes were in LA’s half of the field. With Daniel in play, not only were the Union carrying possession into LA’s half, they were maintaining it. On top of that, Daniel and Jordan Harvey were actually working in some successful overlapping runs. It was a revelation—the left side of the field could be used wide for the attack. Who knew?
Daniel was rewarded for his effort against LA with starts over the next three games against New York (W), Seattle (D – should have been a win), and San Jose (W). In a news roundup a few days after the Seattle game I wrote, “My new favorite Union player is Keon Daniel.” I’ve never been one for personalizing the jerseys I own, preferring to associate myself with the team as a whole rather than a particular player. Now, for the first time ever, I was considering putting a Union player’s name and number on the back of my jersey.
When Jordan Harvey was so unjustly red carded in the first half against San Jose, Daniel, who was already playing out of his natural central midfield position at left mid, slotted in at left back. With Michael Farfan coming in at the start of the second half at left back, Daniel moved inside in the midfield. In our player ratings for that game PSP’s Union beat reporter Adam Cann rated him a 9. Adam wrote,
“Outside midfield. Central midfield. Outside back. Daniel did it all. His above-average ball skills were on display for much of the game. At one point the rumor went around that no mortal man could dispossess Keon Daniel. Daniel would be even more effective if he had a striker in front of him that made runs and opened up space for him to get forward…[Looking ahead], Justin Mapp and Kyle Nakazawa will have to push hard to win minutes back from Daniel, who is the only midfielder to excel both offensively and defensively this season.”
A couple of days later, MLSsoccer.com named him (along with Carlos Valdes and Sheanon Williams) to the Team of the Week.
After missing the away game against Portland with a bruised foot, Daniel put in a fine showing against LA at home—”Dapper Daniel Display” was the subheading in the PSP player ratings for the game. But with the Union down a goal at home, Daniel was taken off at the half to bring on Danny Mwanga, which certainly turned out all right. Nevertheless, as Adam wrote in his analysis, “It was confusing that Daniel left the match after 45 minutes. The Union say it was merely a tactical sub. With Justin Mapp struggling to exert an influence, he seemed more likely to exit.” It wouldn’t be the last time.
…And not starting
For some unfathomable reason, Daniel wouldn’t get a start again for a month, this time against Real Salt Lake at home. In that game, He scored the first headed goal by the Union in 2011. He said afterward, “I’m a person that’s scored goals in my life before. I’ve scored a lot of goals. It was a bit frustrating to be playing and not scoring…As an attacking player, I’ve got to produce. I’ve got to score goals and I’ve got to get assists. I’m glad I did that [Saturday].”
Confident, honest, hungry and appreciative, all in one quote. Really, what’s not to love?
Not only that, Daniel demonstrated a thoughtful, even philosophical, approach to the game, as his reaction to what turned out to be a disappointing draw against Real Salt Lake made clear. “That’s how it is in this sport. Some go, some don’t. That’s the life of football, the life of sport. The coaching staff will keep us pushing hard. We’ll keep playing hard and training hard. We’re a good team and everything will work out if we keep working like this.”
Reflective, accepting, realistic and optimistic. Little did any of us know how necessary such qualities would become.
Following the game against Real Salt Lake at home, it unaccountably would be another five games before Daniel earned another start. Not that this dimmed my appreciation of him. In the PSP midseason review, I wrote, “I would start him over Mapp in a heartbeat. My personal favorite, he has been smooth and confident in whatever role he’s been asked to play.”
In all, he would have nine starts in 18 appearances and 888 minutes played. In games in which he was a starter, the Union’s record was 3–2–4. In all appearances, it was 5–4–9.
Only one more headed goal would be scored by the Union in 2011, Veljko Paunovic’s goal against Columbus away, and, as you no doubt you know, Daniel delivered that ball for the assist. Before assisting Pauno in Columbus, Daniel assisted the opening goal of the 3–0 rout of New England.
As things turned out, the game against Columbus would not only be Daniel’s last start for the Union in 2011, it would also be his last appearance.
Of course, when he left at the end of August to join the Trinidad & Tobago national team for September’s World Cup qualifying matches against Bermuda and Barbados, we thought at the time that he would miss the match away to Real Salt Lake and probably the home match against New England. The early word was good with Daniel scoring the opening goal in the Soca Warriors 2–0 win over Barbados. Two weeks later we were breaking the story that Daniel had been unable to re-enter the United States because of “visa issues.”
Aside from assurances that the visa issues (the details of which remain unspecified as of this writing) were not the fault of the Union, no information was coming out of the club about his status. At PPL Park, “Free Keon” signs began to appear. At the PSP, we continued to give him shout-outs in our match previews just to let him know we all missed him.
Once again, it was “Onward to the interweb!” time. Blog writers and readers of blogs turned to the websites of Trinidad & Tobago newspapers, the T & T Football Federation and Soca Warriors fan message boards trying to find out whatever information they could. A report from the federation suggesting that Daniel may have contracted dengue fever (as far as I know, the diagnosis was never officially confirmed) was followed by further reports describing a drop in form. Things only got worse when T & T failed to advance to the next round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers.
Talk about your tragicomedy. In the end, all you could do was shake your head and wonder. Would he ever wear the Union Blue and Gold again? Hell, would he ever be able to enter the US again? The guy simply couldn’t catch a break.
That is, until the Union released its Expansion Draft protected list on Monday when, lo and behold, who was the sixth name on the list? Keon Daniel.
The loud “wooohooo!” you heard coming from the Northern Liberties section of Philadelphia shortly before 7pm on Monday night? That was me.
There’s no point in wondering about what he could have contributed to the Union’s push to the playoffs, so I’ll stick with what we know. Experience, maturity, technical skill, versatility on either side of the ball, size, speed, desire—these are some of the things Union fans saw from Keon Daniel in 2011 before he was prematurely taken from us and what they should expect in 2012. Not to mention some very cool hair.
And me wearing a Keon Daniel jersey.