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.

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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.

Joel Embiid adjusting to new challenges in 1st NBA training camp

Joel Embiid adjusting to new challenges in 1st NBA training camp

GALLOWAY, N.J. -- With Joel Embiid's excitement to be on the court following two years of injuries comes the reality of his lengthy setback.

Embiid is participating in his first NBA training camp this week. While he has impressed with his natural abilities and improved skills, Embiid is facing challenges as he gets accustomed to the league.

"Everything is kind of off right now as far as catching the ball or shooting," Embiid said after practice Wednesday. "I've still got to get in the flow of the game."

Embiid has yet to play since being drafted in 2014. For the past two years he has worked out individually and in controlled settings. Practices, even in training camp, are different. 

"You see all the time when you realize he hasn't played basketball for a long time," Sixers head coach Brett Brown said. "He's trying to gather his feet and find his balance, he's trying to figure out stuff in real time speed on defensive assignments and rotations."

On Wednesday, Embiid went through practice without any minute restrictions and was feeling healthier from the cold and virus he had been battling (see story). Teammates have praised his physical presence and eagerness to compete. He makes an impact with his 7-foot-2 presence alone, but there is more he wants to improve. 

Embiid is adjusting to the speed of the game. He has been facing challenges with getting the ball in the post and spoke to the coaches about his frustrations. The staff explained they are focusing on pick-and-roll defense and getting out to run during training camp, but he will get that desired location in game situations. 

“You continue to see the size of Joel Embiid,” Brown said. “He's a big man and he's got a mindset to back up his physical gifts. He really wants the ball. He wants to get deep catches. He wants to dunk on people.”

Embiid always has been realistic about his transition to his rookie season. He has pointed out many times that he is a fast learner, and is anxious to soak up new knowledge and apply it to the court.

"It's really frustrating," he said. "But like I've said, you've got to trust the process, which I've been doing."

Tonight's lineup: Cody Asche starts in place of injured Roman Quinn

Tonight's lineup: Cody Asche starts in place of injured Roman Quinn

With Roman Quinn's season over with an oblique strain, Freddy Galvis moves up to second in the Phillies' lineup Wednesday night against the Braves.

Quinn's showing in the majors this month was a microcosm of his pro career to this point — he showed his speed with four steals and several infield hits, posted a .373 OBP in 69 plate appearances, but suffered another injury. Health has always been his roadblock.

With Quinn out, Cody Asche gets a start in left field against Braves right-hander Mike Foltynewicz, who he's homered off of. The presence of Quinn and Aaron Altherr has limited Asche's playing time — he's started only three games since coming back from Triple A on Sept. 10.

Asche bats seventh, a spot ahead of Aaron Altherr, who is 7 for 52 (.135) in his last 18 games and has four extra-base hits in his last 133 plate appearances.

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Ryan Howard, 1B
6. Cameron Rupp, C
7. Cody Asche, LF
8. Aaron Altherr, RF
9. Adam Morgan, P

Matt Kemp, who sat last night, returns to the Braves' lineup.

1. Ender Inciarte, CF
2. Adonis Garcia, 3B
3. Freddie Freeman, 1B
4. Matt Kemp, LF
5. Tyler Flowers, C
6. Dansby Swanson, SS
7. Mallex Smith, RF
8. Daniel Castro, 2B
9. Mike Foltynewicz, P