IT KILLED Helbert Frederico Carreiro da Silva to watch the Union take a backseat in the season opener.
The man affectionately known as Fred is well aware that his efforts in the midfield might have been the difference maker against Seattle Sounders FC. But because of a red card carried over from last season when he donned a D.C. United uniform, Fred was of no use to a Union team in desperate need of a spark at Qwest Field.
"When I watched the game and not to be there was tough, real tough," said Fred, the Brazilian playmaker acquired from D.C. United just hours leading up to the January's MLS SuperDraft. "It's difficult to watch when all you want to do is be there to help your teammates; but I couldn't do anything, you feel helpless."
Despite Fred's English being a little rough around the edges - or in retrospect perhaps it was really my Portugese being so poor - it was evident just by his expressions that missing March 25 burned him up.
To call Fred, 30, a difference maker is a lofty title for someone who has yet to play in a Union uniform, but many insist he has earned it. While I won't go out on a limb and call him a legit one-name Brazilian superstar like Ronaldo, Kaka and Pele, that's only because his affable personality makes his on-field talents all the more uncanny for a player I still know very little about. What I do know is that Fred was a star in Australia's A-League with teams in Melbourne and Wellington, winning league MVP honors. In his first two seasons in MLS, he tallied nine goals and 12 assists in 49 games.
"Just having Fred in the starting lineup is fundamental," said defender Michael Orozco. "He is a very important player, he helps the offense keep their shape and he just adds that scoring threat we didn't have in Seattle."
Tomorrow, when he plays his former team, Fred acknowledged the nostalgia, but said it will last for only a moment with the greater task of beating a sleeping giant at hand.
"I play for the Philadelphia Union now so the only thing that matters to me is to help my team win," Fred said. "I have a lot of really good friends there, but when I am on the field, I have a job to do and that is to beat D.C."
He stands a diminutive 5-7 and weighs just 150 pounds, but to countless players, coaches and MLS fans, Fred walks tall.
"Having Fred back is a huge positive," said Union assistant coach John Hackworth. "A player of his experience and abilities coming back into this team . . . he is an important player for us and we feel very fortunate to have him back for this game."
The Union are awaiting the receipt of international transfer papers to officially announce the signing of American player Cristian Arrieta. Arrieta, formerly of the Puerto Rico Islanders in the USL-1 League, has been a trialist with the team for weeks. Arrieta is expected to fill the hole in the backfield left when defender David Myrie was cut last week.
D.C. United will enter tomorrow's contest at the bottom of the MLS Eastern Conference standings (0-2) and goal-differential rankings (0 GF, 6 GA). But the Union isn't taking them for granted. Numerous Union players referred to United as a "sleeping giant." In spite of its record, United boasts some of the league's best players in seven-time All-Star forward Jaime Moreno, forward/midfielder Santino Quaranta, and former U.S. national team goalkeeper Troy Perkins, whom United received via allocation order after the Union made moves to acquire Fred.
"They are a team that is backed into a corner right now and is going to come out swinging," said Union captain Danny Califf. "We expect them to play an offensive game and come at us hard early. We are looking for them to be aggressive."
When asked if after this game United can be considered a legit rival, Califf said:
"There is a lot of animosity betweeen D.C. and Philly this week and this game will almost be the third strike," said Califf, referring to the trade of Donovan McNabb to the Redskins and the Phillies' season-opening series against the Nationals. "I think it's safe to say, no matter what, that after this game you can call them rivals."
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Philadelphia soccer legend Walter Bahr will participate in the first kick ceremonies before the Union's game against D.C. United. Family members of Bahr and Biden also will be on the field during the ceremonies.
As part of Major League Soccer's ongoing efforts to improve the quality of play, the league has added two additional roster slots per club, increasing the original 24-man roster size to accommodate "homegrown players."
These are players groomed in various youth iniatives approved by MLS. The Union currently has a joint partnership with YSC Sports in Wayne, Pa., as its youth system. Players have to be registered for at least 12 months in an MLS-sanctioned youth program to be eligible to sign a professional contract with that team without entering the MLS SuperDraft.
Financially, teams may now roster 18 to 20 senior players earning at least $40,000 and up to six who don't count against the $2.55 million salary budget. Two of those six spots are for "homegrown players," who must make a minimum of $31,250.
D.C. United at Union
Wen: Tomorrow, 6 o'clock
Where: Lincoln Financial Field
TV: Fox Soccer Channel
On the Web: Live Webcast on MLSSoccer.com
Stadium stuff: Gates open at 4:30 p.m. Local band Beyond the Element will perform at HeadHouse Plaza beginning at 3 p.m. . . . All stadium lots are expected to be open; parking is $15 . . . The Sons of Ben will be marching into the stadium from 11th and Pattison beginning at 5 p.m.
The Union will hold a pep rally today at Dilworth Plaza outside City Hall at noon. All players and coaches are expected to be in attendance.
HE SAID IT:
When asked what should fans expect out of the team that seemed to be lacking something in Seattle, defender Danny Califf quipped: "Well, 11 players on the field for 90 minutes hopefully would be nice." He added: "While we are trying to set a standard for being the team no other team wants to play, we hope to show that through our soccer and by imposing ourselves physically."
MOVING AND SHAKING:
The players have settled into the region, but there is a divide between the younger players and the more experienced as to where they set up their abodes. Forward Alejandro Moreno, 30, who settled with family in Aston, Delaware County, noted the allure of the city for the youth.