CHESTER, Pa. – Look who's back for the Philadelphia Union.
In the 79th minute of Monday night’s First Kick match between the Philadelphia Union and Portland Timbers, midfielder Keon Daniel entered a match wearing Union colors for the first time in seven months.
Daniel, whose last appearance came in August 2011 against Columbus, missed the final 10 games of last season – as well as Philly’s two playoff games – because of visa issues. And although he may not have done much in the Union’s 3-1 season-opening setback, his substitute appearance was a significant one.
WATCH: Daniel heads home
“It’s good to be back,” the Trinidadian midfielder said shortly before the team left for Portland. “It’s good to know I’m back, playing in front of [Union fans]. They are so passionate.”
Daniel’s absence was one of the more mysterious storylines of the Union’s 2011 season. After temporarily leaving to play for the Trinidad and Tobago national team in September, the midfielder was forced to remain in his native country because of a problem with his visa, which spawned a few “Free Keon” signs in the River End of PPL Park.
The player declined to elaborate on what the specific visa problem was, but he did say that he followed his team closely while in Trinidad and Tobago, watching as many Union games as he could on television.
It wasn’t easy, though.
“It’s hard being a soccer player and watching football and not helping your teammates,” Daniel said. “I put everything in God’s hands. I was just praying for the best, and my family was with me and praying for the best, as well. If you hope for the best, the best will happen.”
Now that he’s with the Union again, and seemingly back in the regular rotation, Daniel hopes to improve on his debut MLS season, a campaign in which he notched a goal and two assists in 888 minutes.
The Union have a crowded midfield, but it will get less crowded with Amobi Okugo and Freddy Adu leaving for the final US Olympic camp before the CONCACAF qualifying tournament.
And even with those players in the mix, Daniel is valuable because of his pace, ball skills and defensive ability on the wings.
“I’m getting more comfortable,” Daniel said. “Last year was a learning experience in the league. This year I’m hoping for big things and I’m hoping to carry this team as far as possible.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.