CHESTER, Pa. — While Philadelphia Union teammates Freddy Adu, Amobi Okugo and Sheanon Williams would rather be in Kansas City for CONCACAF Olympic qualifying this weekend, the US U-23s' group-stage disappointment suddenly gives Peter Nowak a lot more options for Saturday’s game against Vancouver at PPL Park (4 pm ET, 6abc).
The Philly manager, however, wants to proceed with caution in how he uses his returning national team players, especially with regards to U-23 captain Adu, who played three full games in five days.
“I think Amobi and Sheanon have more of a chance to be ready for selection Saturday,” Nowak said. “With Freddy, we’ve got to see where he is physically – if he’s ready for 90 minutes or a short period of time or maybe not at all.”
Williams didn’t play in any of the three qualifying games, so he will likely return to his normal starting right back spot Saturday. Okugo, who was used in a second-half sub against Cuba and Canada before playing a full 90 vs. El Salvador, says he’ll also be ready if called upon.
He’ll be extra motivated, too.
“I feel 100 percent,” Okugo said. “I just want to get back on the field as soon as possible to try to forget what happened in Tennessee. It sat with me, especially after the [U-20s failed to qualify for the World Cup] and now this. It’s frustrating. But life goes on. You’ve got to learn from it and use it as motivation. You can’t change the past; you’ve just got to try to make up for it.”
Nowak said he talked to all three players before training Wednesday and that he “felt sorry for them.”
“It’s not an easy situation for them,” the Union manager said. “I know how disappointed they are. They were hoping for big things. This process is not easy, especially being eliminated in this fashion in the last second. But, you know, you’ve got to go back to work.”
Califf nearing return
All signs point to Danny Califf returning to the starting lineup this weekend.
Nowak held his captain out of the last two games because of an offseason knee surgery, but the Philly manager said he’s been progressing nicely with the team’s training staff.
“I think it’s a good chance Danny will play,” Nowak said.
The Union manager added the only significant injury is to rookie Krystian Witkowski, who is suffering from a concussion.
Farfan back in the fold
With the Union shorthanded for last week’s game against the Fire, they were glad to welcome back Gabriel Farfan, who made his 2012 debut when he came on as a halftime sub.
Farfan had been sidelined after tweaking his right quad, and called his return to the field “a memorable experience.”
Now, he hopes to make even more memories as a key player for the Union, even if it’s in a reserve capacity. Last year, Farfan was the starting left back for the final half of the season, but this year he could be used as a versatile bench player in either in the midfield or on the backline.
“Any time you come off the bench, you want to provide a boost for the team,” said Farfan, a midfielder by trade. “You want to help them out as much as you can.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com.