Califf, Union return home to prepare for '12 opener

Portland "going to be 100 miles an hour," says Union captain

Danny Califf vs. Orlando

Photo Credit: 
Donald Montague

Chester, Pa. (March 6, 2012) – As Danny Califf prepares for his ninth season in Major League Soccer, the anticipation is greater than ever.

In six days, the Philadelphia Union begin their third season in MLS and Califf is anxiously awaiting Monday’s opener at Portland. The older the defender gets, the more his juices are flowing as the 2012 campaign inches closer.

“It's always really exciting every time the games come around,” said Califf, who will be 32 on March 17. “It’s the first one, especially when things are buzzing. Portland -- the place is going to be crazy. They’re going to be flying. It’s going to be 100 miles an hour. You’re going to see some of the rookies and guys that haven’t played in the league looking around.

“It’s going be like that a little bit. I’m excited about it. Those kinds of games don’t get old.”

Califf missed one game last season and that was at Portland. He’s even more anxious to make the trip in 2012.

“I’ve heard, like Seattle, it’s a real tough place to play,” Califf said. “It’s on turf. It’s usually wet. Naturally, the game is going to be faster, quicker than it would be on a regular grass field. … It’s going to be a hard game. It’s going to be a fast-paced game. We have to be ready.”

Califf, for one, will be ready. He always is.

For the second time in three seasons, Califf will enter the season donning the captain’s armband. That honor was bestowed upon him once again when goalkeeper Faryd Mondragón left in the offseason to sign with Deportivo Cali of the Colombian First Division.

It’s a responsibility that Califf takes seriously.

“It does mean a lot to me,” Califf said. “Every time you slip on the jersey and then you get to slip on the armband, it’s always a real honor. And especially to do that and to walk into PPL Park with the place going nuts is something that’s really special.

"The first year, I think I maybe tried to take on a little too much with regards to some off the field stuff and so I think we're trying to spread that out. I’m not trying to concentrate on so much of the other things that go along with [being captain]. I’m trying to just be me and delegate stuff I can delegate and then I can worry about being the best leader I can be for the guys and help them out when I can.”

On Tuesday, for the first time in 2012, Califf and the Union trained at PPL Park. The club returned on Sunday from a 10-day training stint in Costa Rica, which followed two weeks in Florida.

Preseason has been far from easy, according to Califf, but it has certainly been valuable.

“It was all soccer,” Califf said. “We trained a lot, but anytime you go on those trips and you go away, you spend a lot of time with people and you get to know their personalities. You get to feel comfortable with them. Obviously, the extra time on the training field, you get to know them – you get to know their habits and their temperaments a little bit. I think it’s good. It’s just long.

“I think you can make some pretty big strides in preseason. You learn more about people when (struggles occur) and that’s when you see the kind of character that really comes out. That’s almost impossible to tell until you get into the season. You understand people are good guys and things like that but it’s not until the start and you hit one of those low points in a season and then you figure out who the guys you can count on are.”

While preseason can seem like an eternity, it’s vital preparation for an even longer season, both mental and physical.

“You have to [be mentally tough] because the preseason is pretty long and just knowing you’re going to have to be mentally in it for 10 months, is not an easy thing,” Califf said. “You definitely have to mentally prepare yourself for that. A lot of times physically things go in and out, but certainly it’s a huge mental struggle to try and be fresh over the course of such a long season.”

For now, though, Califf and his teammates are fresh and ready for another run at the first MLS Cup title in club history. Just being back at PPL Park was a welcome sight.

“It was great just to walk out and be in our locker room again,” Califf said. “Like I said, to try and get back in the routine of the season and being here, it just feels good. It feels comfortable.”