Photo: Earl Gardner
Editor’s note: At the end of each of the last two seasons, we posted a series of “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 with some of PSP writers’ and contributors’ favorite Philadelphia players of 2012.
If the Philadelphia Union craved anything in 2012, it was experience and leadership. With so many players in their early 20s spread throughout the line up, the 27-year-old Carlos Valdes was looked to for both.
It seems so long ago, but the captain at the beginning of this year’s campaign was Danny Califf. In the wake of the early season shake up that saw Califf and Danny Mwanga depart (this after the preseason losses of captain Fayrd Mondragon and fan favorite Sebastien Le Toux), the second year Union defender was appointed captain of the youngest squad in MLS.
The captain’s job became even more important when head coach Peter Nowak was fired. First time head coach John Hackworth inherited a messy situation and an underperforming team. After the dismissal of the hard-nosed Nowak, Hackworth didn’t need a leader to give inspirational team talks. He needed, and he got, a captain who went out and committed himself to his duties for 90 minutes, conducted himself with class and professionalism, leading by example and expecting the same from his teammates.
Organizing the Union’s back line is surely not an easy task. Valdes’ partner in the center through most of this season has been the impressive Amobi Okugo, a converted midfielder. Gabriel Farfan has grown nicely into a reliable left back, but he’s also a converted midfielder. Sheanon Williams seems like a grizzled veteran at the ripe old age of 22, but it can’t be forgotten he was playing striker in Harrisburg just three years ago. Rookie Ray Gaddis has shown tremendous potential but also the growing pains of immaturity. And let’s not forget, this entire defense is playing in front of the 21-year-old and second year goalkeeper Zac MacMath.
But as the Union’s playoff chances faded in late summer, it wasn’t a porous defense that could be looked at as the culprit (though I will be the first to admit that they were far from perfect). And at the center of it all was Carlos Valdes.
North of the border, and desperate for points, the Union captain even tried to pitch in on the offensive side of things. Taking the ball from inside his own half, through three Montreal players, and into the 18-yard box, the Union captain did everything besides physically force Lio Pajoy’s foot to push the ball into the net.
A few weeks before that, with Philadelphia looking like they might pull themselves into the MLS playoff race, it was Valdes again leading the charge. On that occasion, he was again spurning the Impact with a late winner at PPL Park.
But it’s not just what Valdes does on the field that sets him apart, it’s also the way he does it. For being such a physical center back, the Colombian has a mere four yellow cards on the season and no dismissals. You don’t see Valdes jawing with opponents or in the center when players come together (a role he probably couldn’t wrestle away from either Farfan if he tried).
We’ve seen Carlos Valdes grow into a dominant MLS center back, an All-Star quality professional over the last two years in Philadelphia. And this quality has not gone unnoticed back in Colombia. Valdes has been not only been recently called up for national duty during World Cup Qualification, he also featured in important wins over Paraguay and Uruguay, going the full 90 in each match.
Moving into 2013, Union fans know what they are getting when Carlos Valdes steps on the field wearing the captain’s armband. We just have to hope that a big European club doesn’t come sniffing around for El Kaiser before first kick.