And now a mainstay on the Colombian national team?
Few have benefitted from what has been an extremely tough 2012 campaign for the Union, but Carlos Valdes is reaping the rewards of a season that arguably has been his best since joining the Union last February. Valdes, along with Panamanian midfielder Gabriel Gomez have again been called up to their respective national teams ahead of the final FIFA World Cup qualifying date this year. Additionally, Keon Daniel will miss time beginning Oct. 7 to help Trinidad and Tobago in the CFU Caribbean Cup. Daniel will play three matches against French Guyana (Oct. 10), St. Kitts’ Nevis (Oct 12) and Anguilla (Oct.14). All of which are in qualifying for the CONCACAF Gold Cup in 2013.
With a break for matches beginning Oct. 12-16, Valdes will join the Colombians for a CONMEBOL qualifier against Paraguay on Oct. 12 in addition to a friendly against Cameroon on Oct. 16. As for Valdes, it’s a pair of qualifiers first against Honduras in Panama City (Oct. 12) followed by Cuba on Oct. 16 in Havana.
“This is great for me and great for my career,” Valdes said following Saturday’s match in Columbus. “I am having a great season with the Philadelphia Union and I am very proud to again be with the national team because as a professional soccer player you always want to be a part of your national team, it’s a great feeling to represent your country.”
Valdes has played in every match for the Union this season and has been a rock in the center of the defense. In addition to having his stock rise in a season of turmoil for the Union both on and off the pitch, Valdes has remained a profound presence. Under his guidance, the Union rank within the top 10 of goals allowed (sixth) in the league. The club has allowed just 36 to get past in MLS competition, an average of just 1.24 goals a game.
But the issue with this club in their short history has never been keeping goals out; it’s that this season the Union has had a near impossible time finding someone to put goals in consistently.
“I don’t know if it’s that we lose focus, but we are better than this,” Valdes said recently. “We are a good team but we lose our focus and we keep teams in games with us. We have to do a better job of keeping [sharp] the entire match and not allowing these [other clubs] to play with us.”
When Valdes arrived via loan from Independiente Santa Fe two seasons ago, he was already an accomplished player in Colombia. As a member of America de Cali he won a league title. Transferred to Santa Fe a season later he guided the club to a Colombian Cup title – as its captain. However, the looks were scarce upon his arrival to MLS despite his assist in the Union booking their first MLS playoff berth in club history.
With the playoff this season out of the equation following a thrilling finish in Columbus the other night, the focus for the Union is finishing strong and coming out with a bang in 2013.
And Carlos Valdes is eager to be a part of the revival.
“I am always working to be the best, it’s just what I want,” Valdes said. “I want to be the best center back in the league; I want to be the best player within my group. This season has gone on a lot harder than last year because we had so many changes. We’ve had like four or five new guys and that has been hard. But I think personally, I’ve had a great season, but you can’t celebrate when the team you play for isn’t doing as good. So I am just waiting for next season because I hope things will be better.”
As for Gomez, his call-up to Panama has been a mainstay. Gomez, 28, is inching in on 80 caps with the club; with arguably his greatest moment was leading his country to the semifinals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Brought to Philadelphia on the heels of that success, Gomez is still trying to supplant himself as that same emphatic force that he is when he dons the red of his homeland.
“Panama has never been in a World Cup before, so it is everyone’s desire. We have the responsibility to make that wish come true,” Gomez told philadelphiaunion.com. “We have a duty with our country so we will work hard to make our people happy, and give them a dream that they have been waiting for many years. Going to Brazil [in] 2014 is our objective.”
Not to say Gomez hasn’t made his mark. In 20 matches played, he is tied for the club lead of five goals, with just eight shots on frame (23 shots total).
“I really love playing here and I want to win here in Philadelphia. I enjoy playing for these fans and just like I play my best for my country, I want the fans to know that I always try to do the same here and I think that will continue.”
Contact Kerith Gabriel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Kerith on Twitter at @sprtswtr.