Michael Farfan is proof that you can’t always put too much stock in the MLS Player Combine.
Last January, the two-time first team All-American out of the University of North Carolina struggled to get in gear while playing against other future pros and slipped to the second round of the 2011 MLS SuperDraft.
Surprised that a player of his caliber was still around, the Union selected Farfan with the 23rd overall selection and have since reaped the rewards of that fortuitous pick.
Earlier this week, Farfan was named an MLS Rookie of the Year finalist, finishing third in the voting behind Kansas City’s C.J. Sapong and D.C. United’s Perry Kitchen. The Union midfielder was the only player in the top five of the voting that was not a first-round draft pick.
WATCH: Farfan's gorgeous goal
“At the combine, everything is 100 miles per hour and everyone is trying to get their name out there,” Farfan told MLSsoccer.com. “So it’s hard to play as you might play a regular game. It’s more of an individual thing.”
In some ways, it’s surprising that Farfan didn’t play well in the combine because, individually, he’s a very technical and creative player. But as the season went on in Philadelphia, he began to show that side to his game – and because of that, became a fixture in the starting lineup.
After playing sparingly during the first half of the season, Farfan started nine of the final 10 regular-season games for the Union – as well as the club’s two playoff games – and finished his rookie season with two goals and three assists in 1,460 minutes.
“In the beginning, I wasn’t playing too much, and then I was playing in different spots, like on the backline,” Farfan said. “Toward the end, I got more playing time in the midfield, and I think I had a good season. At the same time, there’s always room for improvement.”
While Farfan was able to get into his groove in his natural midfield position, his twin brother, Gabriel, spent much of the season filling a big hole on Philly’s backline. Although not an experienced defender, Gabriel started 17 of the Union’s final 19 games at left back, and Michael believes he could have just as easily been a Rookie of the Year finalist.
“He was in a position he hadn’t played much, and I think he did well,” Michael said. “It’s hard to learn a new position.”
Next season, perhaps, the Farfans will play together in the midfield. But wherever the twins might end up on the field, the Union feel fortunate that both rookies took on such big roles in their debut seasons, and the coaches expect them to continue to grow in the future.
Michael Farfan feels fortunate, too – even if he did probably slip too far on draft day.
“I’m happy that I ended up in Philadelphia,” he said, “and I’m happy with the way the season worked out.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.