Marc Narducci: Union's Gabe Farfan brings tenacity to game, team

The Union's Gabe Farfan (15) , battling Houston's Je-Vaughn Watson in the 2011 playoffs, played a key role against Vancouver. STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer
The Union's Gabe Farfan (15) , battling Houston's Je-Vaughn Watson in the 2011 playoffs, played a key role against Vancouver. STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer (The Union's Gabe Farfan (15))
Posted: April 06, 2012

Lost sometimes amid all the skill players in soccer, at any level, is the importance of the grinders, the ones willing to do the grunt work.

The Union knew all about that while losing their first three Major League Soccer games this season. And even though they didn't win the fourth game, that scoreless tie on Saturday with Vancouver at least halted the losing.

After the game, team manager Peter Nowak talked about the team's renewed dedication to toughening up.

"[From] our perspective, this was just getting to the basics, making sure we're going to fight for every single ball," Nowak said.

Maybe forgotten amid all the changes the Union made in the offseason, bringing in several skilled players, was that the most impressive factor about last year's playoff team was its toughness.

So on Saturday, the toughness level was raised considerably, and one of the reasons was the play of Gabe Farfan.

Farfan started 18 games last season, becoming the regular outside back toward the end of July after the Union traded Jordan Harvey to the Whitecaps.

Farfan, who was slowed by injury earlier this season, had played a total of only 45 minutes in the first three games.

He started the game Saturday at midfield and then moved to the back in the second half. And wherever he played, he went to the ball with an aggressiveness that appeared to be infectious.

There are players on the team with more talent, but few who match his grit, although twin brother Michael Farfan would give his brother a run for his money.

Gabe Farfan didn't - in his opinion - do anything special other than play the way he usually does. That means giving in to nobody when it came to challenging for a loose ball.

"I try to work as hard as I can in training or in games," Farfan said after a midweek practice at PPL Park in Chester. "Without hard work, talent can only get you so far."

This isn't to suggest that Farfan doesn't have the ball skills needed to perform in MLS or any professional league. It's just that it's not enough to carry him. He needs that aggressiveness and the mind-set that he is the only player on the field who deserves to win the ball.

"I am just trying to work hard and, hopefully, it rubs off on teammates," he said.

On Saturday, it did.

Now, while off until April 14 at PPL Park against the Columbus Crew, the Union have some time to reflect on their small positive step and can try to fix an offense that has totaled just two goals in the four games.

Still, the scoring chances will keep coming, if the Union are able to win those 50-50 balls more often than not.

The chances were plentiful on Saturday, but the Union just didn't cash in. Still, it was the most aggressively the team has played this season.

Nothing trumps skill, but without the heart, it becomes almost a wasted luxury. Not everybody can have Gabe Farfan's insatiable desire to get to the ball, and not everybody can display the skill of, say, Union midfielder Gabriel Gomez.

There has to be a solid mix. Before Saturday, it wasn't an even split between the skill and grit departments.

Farfan brought that to the team. Toughness from such players can never be underestimated.

"Absolutely," Nowak agreed about Farfan's contribution. "One tackle can change the game."

It will be as tough to keep Farfan out of the lineup as it was to win a ball against him during his first start of the season.


Contact Marc Narducci at 856,779-3225, mnarducci@phillynews.com or follow @sjnard on Twitter.

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