Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz
Editor’s note: At the end of the first two Philadelphia Union seasons, we posted a series of end of the season reviews of every Union player. Over the next several weeks, PSP continues with a review of the 2012 season.
From the tumultuous beginning of 2012, Carlos Valdes emerged stronger.
In Danny Califf, Valdes had not only the big, banging, physical partner to complement his quick passing and smart tactics at his side, he also had the team’s unquestioned leader. Loved by the entirety of the Union fanbase, Califf’s warm, approachable demeanor made him an ideal captain for a side looking to recover from the sting of losing fellow veterans Sebatien Le Toux and Faryd Mondragon in the offseason.
And just like that, Califf was gone, lost like the others, leaving Valdes to step into the captaincy.
Not only did Valdes become more vocal and more visible in 2012, he did so while turning in Man of the Match performance after Man of the Match performance. Where his first season in Philadelphia had seen a cagey, familiar face in goal behind him and a heady presence at his side, Valdes was now looking at a first year starter in Zac MacMath and a converted midfielder in Amobi Okugo.
But when things could have gone pear-shaped with the Union leaking goals at an alarming pace, mostly they did not.
And that is due largely to the quality and leadership of Carlos Valdes.
With club and country (and even in between), Valdes had a memorable 2012. In the league, his stoppage time winner against Montreal was the perfect combination of effort and talent, as he won the aerial battle, first flicking the ball into the air before reacting fastest to slot home beneath Donovan Ricketts. It was the Union’s third win on the trot and Valdes was instrumental in attempting to pull his side back into touch with the rest of the Eastern Conference.
Weeks later, an early injury to SKC’s Aurelien Collin earned Valdes a standing ovation when he took to the pitch in the MLS All Star game. Eager to repay the home fans for their support, Valdes turned in a strong performance, holding visiting Chelsea in check long enough for his side to grab the victory.
One of his most attentive fans, Colombia manager Jose Pekerman, took notice of Valdes’ excellence in MLS. Drafting him into his World Cup Qualifying side, Valdes suddenly found himself not only in camp, but seeing minutes for one of the hottest countries in world, currently sitting at No. 8 in the FIFA rankings.
With the playoffs long since conceded, the Union had only pride to play for over their final three matches. Unfortunately for the Union, Valdes looked exhausted and disinterested over the final week of the season. Turning in easily his worst performances of the year, Valdes ended 2012 with an absolute clunker against the visiting Red Bulls. After bundling over Tim Cahill in the box, Valdes played a large part in conceding two more times on the Union’s final matchday.
Standing at 6’0″ tall, Valdes is the picture of the modern centerback. Powerful in the tackle, deceptively rapid in pursuit and well-cultured on the ball, Valdes turned in a stellar 2012 with the impressive handicap of twice having to teach a partner the position. And while Sheanon Williams, and then Amobi Okugo, were finding their feet in the middle of the backline, Valdes provided the ultimate security blanket. Outside of all the physical attributes that make up a great player, Valdes possesses the vision and positional sense to simply be in the right place at the right time. And once he’s there, the captain’s technical ability to save the day is unquestionable. In Valdes and Okugo, the Union arguably have the best ball-handling centerbacks of any MLS side and with a better link player in 2013, they could prove a vital piece in launching quick, precise counterattacks from the back.
Patience. For all of his positive attributes, Valdes still has plenty to learn about leading his side. Playing behind an often sputtering offense, Valdes is too quick to frustration, with his penchant for mazy, forward runs proving symptomatic of the captain’s annoyance. As the anchor of a young defense, these forays are at best ill-advised, if not downright dangerous, as thy rarely produce more than a turnover, exposing his teammates behind him.
With the veteran presence of Bakary Soumare back in the fray for 2013, or a more experienced Amobi Okugo at his side, these attacking jaunts may appear less rash, but Valdes needs to learn to keep a better lid on his emotions. It may be nit-picking to point out, but for an elite MLS defender like Valdes, there is very little about which to complain.
At only 27 years old, Valdes has the talent necessary to raise his game to a higher level. The question is whether that will involve a transfer out of town. His performances for Colombia and in the MLS All Star game certainly put him in the shop window and come Europe’s winter transfer period, Valdes could be an important signing for a club looking to bolster their defense without breaking the bank. In order to become a more consistent fixture for his national team, such a move may be necessary, not too mention that Valdes is young enough to learn plenty more about his position and leadership responsibilities from others before taking them on himself. If such an offer were to materialize, the Union front office would have to carefully weigh the option of collecting handsomely on their captain, but again unsettling their backline.
Should the Union retain Valdes’ services, the outlook for the Union backline is decidedly rosy. With a return to full fitness projected for Soumare, the two should form one of, if not the, elite centerback pairing in MLS for the upcoming season.
Stat chart legend:
POS: Position; GP: Games Played; GS: Games Started; MINS: Minutes; PA: Passes Attempted; PC: Passes Completed; P%: Passing Accuracy Percentage; G: Goals; A: Assists; SOG: Shots on Goal; SOG/S%: Percentage of Shots that are on Goal; G/SOG%: Percentage of Shots on Goal Converted; SC%: Scoring Percentage; G/90min: Goals per 90 minutes; Hm G: Home Goals; Rd G: Road Goals; FC: Fouls Committed; FS: Fouls Suffered; YC: Yellow Cards; RC: Red Cards