Almost a month ago, Keon Daniel joined up with his Trinidad and Tobago teammates with a specific goal in mind: to advance to the knockout stages of the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
This week, the Philadelphia Union midfielder returned to Philly a happy man, having accomplished that goal.
“Before we even started the tournament, we came together as a team and said if we make it to the quarterfinals, I think that would be a good achievement because we hadn’t played in a major tournament in a while,” Daniel said following the Union’s training session Wednesday. “Football has been down in our country. I think this starts to put things back on the right course.”
Daniel scored in the team’s first match, a 2-2 draw with El Salvador, to help Trinidad and Tobago book their place in the quarterfinals for the first time since 2000.
The Union midfielder’s Gold Cup run ended Saturday when the Soca Warriors fell to Mexico, 1-0. Daniel played a full 90 in that game, helping his team hold Mexico scoreless until the 84th minute.
“Of course, that was hard,” Daniel said. “We knew they were a good team. We prepared well for them and did the necessary things we need to do. We were just unlucky.”
Daniel – who watched Union games via the MLS App on his iPad while he was gone – now hopes to regain his place as a valuable player for the Union. Before missing the club’s last five games, he had started 12 of Philly’s first 16 contests, primarily as a central attacking midfielder.
“First of all, it’s great to have Keon back,” Union manager John Hackworth said. “He is one of the best possession players we have for sure. He’s very skillfull, his feet are excellent and he has such a calm demeanor about him. Nothing rattles him.”
Hackworth added that having Daniel’s calming presence in the midfield could be important for Saturday’s game against Vancouver at BC Place (7 p.m., The Comcast Network), where the Whitecaps are undefeated. But the Union manager also stopped short of saying Daniel will regain his starting spot this weekend.
“We have to find a way to integrate him back into the team,” Hackworth said. “It comes down to competition in training. But he’s looked really good this week and we’re happy to have him back.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org