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How One Meaningless Goal Earned Michael Farfan a Free Pass From Union Fans

May 10, 2013, 12:59 PM EDT

It was beautiful. It inspired gasps. It appeared on highlight shows in Europe, where fans were exposed to the blue and gold of a team called “Philadelphia Union.”

It was one goal in a meaningless friendly. And it has somehow earned Michael Farfan a nearly two-year free pass from Union fans.

That YouTube video alone has been viewed 315,000 times — and there are others (without the awesome Spanish “goal-azooooooo” call).

It was a friendly in July, 2011, when the Union hosted world powerhouse Real Madrid at Lincoln Financial Field. The Union lost the game, but did not embarrass themselves against star players who make more than their entire roster.

But now, nearly two years after that moment, it stands as a strange career milestone for the 24-year-old Farfan.

Ask any Union fan for their favorite moment in team history. Very few will mention the team’s high-profile friendly matches. Matches that have included Real Madrid, Manchester United, Celtic and Everton. But ask any fan for their favorite Michael Farfan moment, and you’ll hear, “Oh, that goal against Real Madrid. That was awesome!”

What has he done since?

This year, Farfan has zero goals and zero assists. He has 12 “shots” and five “shots on goal” (statistics that are dodgy, at best, all around when it comes to soccer). Yet he has started seven of the team’s eight games.

Last year, Farfan had one goal and five assists in 32 games (31 starts). He made the All-Star Team, but as a late fill-in who was added to the roster mostly because the game took place at PPL Park and he didn’t have to get on a plane to make the team’s lone practice.

His best meaningful highlight was that one goal, and a beautiful assist — to help the Union earn a surprising road win over LA Galaxy last July.

My question is not, “What happened to Michael Farfan?” I don’t have an answer to that. My question is, “Why isn’t anyone asking that question?.

Freddy Adu had a band of haters that could fill PPL Park a few times over. First-round pick Zac MacMath has been openly questioned more than once. Hell, even the re-acquisition of Sebastian Le Toux inspired far more skepticism than I expected.

Through it all, whether Peter Nowak or John Hackworth was holding the pregame pen, “M. Farfan” has appeared in the Union’s Starting XI. Why?

Through much of last year, I questioned why he didn’t receive half the criticism of Adu. Adu’s lofty salary in comparison was a frequent — and valid — excuse. But this year, I have often walked out of PPL Park and openly wondered if Farfan was on the field at all.

He was advertised as somewhat of a “playmaker,” and is deployed as such in a lineup severely lacking in playmaking. He should have more assists than goals, but he should also have far more moments that make you take notice.

During an uneventful 10-minute span in the second half of last Saturday’s game against Seattle, I focused all my attention on Farfan, whether he was near the ball or not.

Most of his time was spent watching from afar, occasionally moving to make himself available for a pass, before immediately looking to pass it again. Not once did he try to create a forward move, not once did he take on a defender one-on-one, and, more often than not, he passed the ball laterally or backward (sadly, he’s not the worst offender in the negative-pass department, ::cough:: Brian Carroll).

After that game, Hackworth mentioned Farfan’s minutes (in a roundabout way). This from Philly.com’s Jonathan Tannenwald, on Gabriel Farfan, Michael’s brother:

“He’s competing right now with his brother [Michael] for playing time. When called upon today he did his job and he did it very well.”

I don’t necessarilly agree that Gabriel should be the one competing with Michael for minutes (that’s another story), but the fact that Hackworth will at least mention that possibility that Michael won’t be in the lineup might be enough to motivate the player.

Every game, one hour before kickoff, the Union’s starting lineup is released. I see tweets and hear parking lot comments questioning this player or that one. Hell, the Danny Cruz hate alone could keep a Twitter feed full for hours (p.s., I was happy to inspire Danny’s two-goal showing with my post last week).

But I have not once heard, “Ugh, why is Michael Farfan starting again?”

Maybe it’s time to at least ask the question.

  1. whordy - May 10, 2013 at 1:25 PM

    He’s starting because he has the best control and vision and passing ability on the team. Yes, his career did not take off like we hoped and he clearly has peaks and valleys.
    But that’s the name of the game, and Farfan has the kind of skill and talent you want in your midfield and you try your hardest to bring out every game.
    In fact, this is part of the problem with mindsets here. You can look at Cruz and say he “brings it” every game (he does) and point out Farfan, by comparison, has up and downs. But you know what? What Cruz brings is worthless for 90% of a soccer game. Grit, hustle? Toughness? Regarding those things as holy on the pitch is what has stagnated USA Soccer for so long, and we are finally moving on from that.
    So yeah while we all can see Cruz running hard while doing nothing for most of the game, I’d rather take Farfan and his far superior soccer skills in a soccer game anyday.

    Reply
  2. Steve Moore - May 10, 2013 at 3:08 PM

    I’m not doubting that he’s a talented player. I’m not even arguing that there’s a better option on the roster. And he’s clearly more talented than Cruz. But he’s been INVISIBLE this season. Invisible. And has missed more than one gimme shot. He just needs to feel like his place in the starting XI isn’t a foregone conclusion.

    Reply
  3. 6enny - May 10, 2013 at 4:14 PM

    Personally I couldn’t give a crap about the Union or soccer in general, but it bugs me to no end when Philadelphians say “Why does so-and-so get a free pass”?

    What do you mean when you ask that? “Why can’t I boo that athlete?” “Why can’t the media rip that athlete?” “Why can’t the GM trade/cut that athlete?”

    I think what you’re really saying is, “I want to boo this athlete, but nobody else is, and I’m confused why.” Typically the reason is that they’re A HISTORICALLY AMAZING ATHLETE WHO HAS BROUGHT GREAT HAPPINESS TO THE INTELLIGENT PHILADELPHIA FANS WHO HAVE MORE THAN 30 SECONDS OF LONG-TERM MEMORY.

    Everybody can have a slump. It takes a real fan to consider the athlete’s legacy and keep their knee jerk reaction to crucify every athlete not named Rocky to themself.

    No offense meant.

    Oh and this also applies to potentially phenominal, young prospects that require more time to develop than the ADD riddled brain of an average WIP caller can comprehend.

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