How One Meaningless Goal Earned Michael Farfan a Free Pass From Union Fans

How One Meaningless Goal Earned Michael Farfan a Free Pass From Union Fans

It was beautiful. It inspired gasps. It appeared on highlight shows in Europe, where fans were exposed to the blue and gold of a team called "Philadelphia Union."

It was one goal in a meaningless friendly. And it has somehow earned Michael Farfan a nearly two-year free pass from Union fans.

[nbcsports_video src=http://www.youtube.com/embed/DkdEWb8WFrQ service=youtube width=590 height=332]

That YouTube video alone has been viewed 315,000 times -- and there are others (without the awesome Spanish "goal-azooooooo" call).

It was a friendly in July, 2011, when the Union hosted world powerhouse Real Madrid at Lincoln Financial Field. The Union lost the game, but did not embarrass themselves against star players who make more than their entire roster.

But now, nearly two years after that moment, it stands as a strange career milestone for the 24-year-old Farfan.

Ask any Union fan for their favorite moment in team history. Very few will mention the team's high-profile friendly matches. Matches that have included Real Madrid, Manchester United, Celtic and Everton. But ask any fan for their favorite Michael Farfan moment, and you'll hear, "Oh, that goal against Real Madrid. That was awesome!"

What has he done since?

This year, Farfan has zero goals and zero assists. He has 12 "shots" and five "shots on goal" (statistics that are dodgy, at best, all around when it comes to soccer). Yet he has started seven of the team's eight games.

Last year, Farfan had one goal and five assists in 32 games (31 starts). He made the All-Star Team, but as a late fill-in who was added to the roster mostly because the game took place at PPL Park and he didn't have to get on a plane to make the team's lone practice.

His best meaningful highlight was that one goal, and a beautiful assist -- to help the Union earn a surprising road win over LA Galaxy last July.

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My question is not, "What happened to Michael Farfan?" I don't have an answer to that. My question is, "Why isn't anyone asking that question?.

Freddy Adu had a band of haters that could fill PPL Park a few times over. First-round pick Zac MacMath has been openly questioned more than once. Hell, even the re-acquisition of Sebastian Le Toux inspired far more skepticism than I expected.

Through it all, whether Peter Nowak or John Hackworth was holding the pregame pen, "M. Farfan" has appeared in the Union's Starting XI. Why?

Through much of last year, I questioned why he didn't receive half the criticism of Adu. Adu's lofty salary in comparison was a frequent -- and valid -- excuse. But this year, I have often walked out of PPL Park and openly wondered if Farfan was on the field at all.

He was advertised as somewhat of a "playmaker," and is deployed as such in a lineup severely lacking in playmaking. He should have more assists than goals, but he should also have far more moments that make you take notice.

During an uneventful 10-minute span in the second half of last Saturday's game against Seattle, I focused all my attention on Farfan, whether he was near the ball or not.

Most of his time was spent watching from afar, occasionally moving to make himself available for a pass, before immediately looking to pass it again. Not once did he try to create a forward move, not once did he take on a defender one-on-one, and, more often than not, he passed the ball laterally or backward (sadly, he's not the worst offender in the negative-pass department, ::cough:: Brian Carroll).

After that game, Hackworth mentioned Farfan's minutes (in a roundabout way). This from Philly.com's Jonathan Tannenwald, on Gabriel Farfan, Michael's brother:

"He's competing right now with his brother [Michael] for playing time. When called upon today he did his job and he did it very well."

I don't necessarilly agree that Gabriel should be the one competing with Michael for minutes (that's another story), but the fact that Hackworth will at least mention that possibility that Michael won't be in the lineup might be enough to motivate the player.

Every game, one hour before kickoff, the Union's starting lineup is released. I see tweets and hear parking lot comments questioning this player or that one. Hell, the Danny Cruz hate alone could keep a Twitter feed full for hours (p.s., I was happy to inspire Danny's two-goal showing with my post last week).

But I have not once heard, "Ugh, why is Michael Farfan starting again?"

Maybe it's time to at least ask the question.

In 1st game post-Ersan Ilyasova, Dario Saric shines as Sixers' starting PF

In 1st game post-Ersan Ilyasova, Dario Saric shines as Sixers' starting PF

When Ersan Ilyasova was traded to the Hawks on Wednesday, it became Dario Saric's time to shine.

And shine he did in the Sixers' 120-112 win over the Wizards Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center. In the first game coming off the All-Star break, Saric got the starting nod at power forward. He certainly looked the part, posting 20 points (10 of 19 from the field), 11 rebounds and four assists.

Saric, now the only true four on the roster, was proud of his team's performance against one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.

"We have a lot of veterans who can share the ball and that's how you're supposed to play," Saric said. "For me I'm not surprised if we [beat the third-best team] in the East, but I believe these guys can play very good basketball."

Saric was excellent in the starting role, but his exceptional play dates back before the All-Star break. Including Friday, he's averaged 20.5 points, eight rebounds and 2.5 assists over his last six games. The Sixers are 4-2 in that span.

Head coach Brett Brown is seeing what he expected to see from the Croatian rookie.

"He's a professional basketball player," Brown said. "He has been that for a while. His love of the game, his passion for the game is contagious. It's a thing that we loved maybe more than anything about him when we did the deal with Orlando, knowing however many years ago with the trade with Elfrid Payton and Saric. That was a calculated move."

Saric played almost 33 minutes Friday night. So what did Brown do to give Saric a breather? He sent out Robert Covington.

Covington has played the position most of his life but has spent his entire Sixers career on the wing. In a time of need, he stepped up for a team still adjusting to roster changes.

The 6-foot-8 Covington held his own against the likes of Philly native Markieff Morris. It didn't seem to faze his offensive game, either. Covington scored 25 points on 9 of 14 from the field (5 of 9 from three). He also added 11 rebounds and three assists.

Covington has also been a catalyst for the Sixers during their recent success. He's averaging 17.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.2 steals in his last six. He's also shot a ridiculous 46 percent from three (19 of 41) in that span.

"We can only control what we're able to control on the court," Covington said. "Everything outside of what they do in management doesn't include us. We can only focus on what we can control on the court, and that's what our main focus was on these last few days."

Saric continues to show that he was worth wait while Covington continues to prove that he's a keeper.

They've certainly had different paths. Saric was a lottery pick and regarded as one the top young players in Europe. Covington went undrafted out of Tennessee State and spent the 2013-14 primarily with the Rockets' D-League affiliate.

Bryan Colangelo has identified Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons as the team's "transformational players." That's likely true, but every NBA team needs guys like Saric and Covington to complement their stars.

Covington is impressed with the progress of Saric in his rookie season.

"Dario's a very special player," Covington said. "He's able to do so much on the court. Tonight, you saw every aspect of his game. He'll guard, defending, rebounding and making plays on the offensive game. That's what Dario does. Now that he's going to play more in the starting lineup, it's really going to help him."

Saric may be the frontrunner to take home the Rookie of the Month for February. He's second only to Joel Embiid in double-doubles (seven) and 20-point games (six) among rookies. Whether it's Saric or Embiid, it appears the Rookie of the Year will be a Sixer.

His promotion to the starting lineup and wins against teams like the Wizards should only help Saric's cause.

"Maybe you see [me start consistently], maybe not," Saric said. "The game first time here I try to find myself. I got a couple rebounds, but still I try to find myself with the new role. I've tried to move around, catch the rhythm of the game, that's the most important thing in basketball."

He appeared to find himself just fine Friday night.

For Shayne Gostisbehere, Dave Hakstol, Stadium Series brings back cherished memories

For Shayne Gostisbehere, Dave Hakstol, Stadium Series brings back cherished memories

PITTSBURGH -- For Flyers coach Dave Hakstol and defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, tonight’s Stadium Series game between the Flyers and Penguins brings back memories.
 
Hakstol coached North Dakota in an outdoor hockey in college, while Gostisbehere participated in one as a freshman at Union College.
 
For Hakstol, however, this whole idea of outdoor hockey began when he was growing up in central Alberta in the small town of Drayton Valley.
 
“I think everybody’s got great memories of growing up outdoors,” Hakstol said. “We had a back creek that we could shovel off. I’m sure everybody could sit back and tell you stories of playing on the outdoor rinks.
 
“For me, most recently, I’ve got two kids growing up playing on outdoor rinks, backyard rinks. It’s pretty cool. It takes you right back to the heart of the game.”
 
Hakstol’s outdoor coaching experience came during a game between Nebraska-Omaha and his North Dakota squad in 2013 at the “Mutual of Omaha Battles on Ice.”
 
“I don’t know how to describe it,” Hakstol said of the event. “It’s just a different feel. It’s an ideal scenario.”
 
He said while tonight's game is special, it’s still about the points, first and foremost.
 
“You are cognizant of everything that surrounds the event and the game,” Hakstol said. “Yet for us, it’s two points. We’re fighting for every point here. That is going to paramount.”

Gostisbehere played at Fenway Park in 2012 for Union in a game against Harvard. That night, Union won, 2-0, to become the first ECAC club to ever win outdoors.
 
“I played at Fenway Park against Harvard and it was fun,” Gostisbehere said. “That was my freshman year and the only one I ever played in.
 
“Good crowd. It wasn’t packed obviously, but it was a night game. The ice was really good. It was really cold, too. It was pretty cool.”
 
As warm as it was Friday here -- a historic 78 degrees -- temperatures will begin in the 40s tonight at Heinz Field and then drop. It rained this morning but has since ceased.
 
“The biggest thing for me was to take a second, look around,” Gostisbehere said, admitting he failed to do that in college and won’t make that mistake again.
 
“Just cherish it a little bit. You are so focused on the game, it’s tough. That was biggest thing for me. It was such a blur. Just being in college and having the opportunity to play at Fenway Park was pretty awesome.”

This will the Flyers first-ever outdoor affair in Pittsburgh.
 
“It’s pretty exciting and I’m glad to be part of it,” Gostisbehere said.