Gabriel Farfan didn’t know it as he walked up to the podium Wednesday, but even before he entered the room he was already the man of the hour.
A day before, the midfielder and his twin brother Michael, were front and center for a different purpose – a photo shoot in which they were requested by a photographer to form some pretty unique poses for an upcoming magazine spread.
However while on the podium Wednesday, it was Gabriel’s vast knowledge of Mexican soccer (and not his photogenic qualities) that was sought out ahead of Saturday’s international friendly against Pumas UNAM (5 p.m., purchase tickets ) at PPL Park. Along with homegrown midfielder Cristhian Hernandez, the Farfans represent the Union’s ties to the Mexican game.
Both Farfan brothers hold dual citizenship and could play for either country. But it was Gabriel that honed his skills while in the academy system of Club America, one of Mexico’s most storied franchises.
“It was a good time,” Farfan said on his stint with Club America. “They focus on their academy quite a bit [in Mexico] and so you learn a lot of different styles. I grew up here in the States, but I learned a whole new way to train, a different game. It was a good time, and a great experience.”
Mexico has long been the nation to reign supreme in CONCACAF play and many of its clubs reflect that through its passionate fans. However, the Farfans will be the first to tell you that their affinity isn't greater to one or the other. Instead they are proud to be both.
“To be honest, I feel a part of both sides,” said Gabriel, who was acquired by the Union a few months after brother Michael was taken as a second round steal in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft. “I grew up in a Mexican household but was born over here in the United States. I never root for either one. I just always want to see a great game from both teams.”
A great matchup featuring the young stars of both teams are what fans can expect on Saturday when the Union kicks off against Pumas. The winner of multiple league titles and three international crowns, Farfan knows that a win – friendly or not – isn’t going to be easy.
“It’s a good opportunity for us to measure ourselves against a team like Pumas that has a lot of great history,” said Farfan. “They’ve won numerous titles and they are well known for their youth academy, so it should be good to see some good young guys battle each other.”
Young players like Hernandez, who emigrated from Mexico but improved his skills in various youth academies and through U.S. Soccer’s own player development academy before landing here and eventually signing as a homegrown player. Hernandez, who was born in Guadalajara, said soccer was a way of life for him at an early age.
“In Mexico soccer is the biggest sport, everyone is concentrating on playing only soccer,” said Hernandez, following a recent training session. “From an early age I started playing in the street and it was always competitive…it’s at another level [for soccer in Mexico] and for me, I take a lot of pride in my heritage and where I came from.”
It’s much of the same for both Gabriel and Michael Farfan as their background and the strength of their heritage is a hallmark in all that they do.
Contact Union writer Kerith Gabriel at firstname.lastname@example.org