Carlos Valdes is a mild-mannered guy.
And because he doesn't really trust his grasp of the English language, he doesn't say much, and prefers to be left alone.
Generally Valdes' modus operandi after games is to shower, throw on his suit, throw in some extra hair product and duck out before any media members decide to stick a microphone in his face.
But after Saturday's disheartening loss to San Jose, Valdes stood pat and gave his two cents regarding the Union's inability to score goals. It's an issue this former captain of two different Colombian clubs thinks is a growing problem within his current locker room.
So when Valdes spoke, even via translator, he didn't mince words.
"Not scoring goals simply comes from a lack of confidence in ourselves," Valdes said. "At the beginning of the season, we didn't have a good start and we committed a lot of errors with the ball, and that cost us points and keep us at the bottom of the table."
But it's the timidity that has seemingly crept its way into the psyche of this group that annoys Valdes - to say the least.
"Obviously, we don't want to make the same mistakes again," he said. "That's why we are lacking confidence with the ball. Everybody is trying to do whatever they can without risking. And sometimes in soccer, you have to take risks in order to get points."
There are no risk takers.
No one has stepped up and taken the reins offensively within this group and has done the extra stuff to bring the offense to the next level. You could say this is a result of being the second-youngest team in the league, but even that provides little solace.
"Whether you are a 10-year-old or you're a seasoned pro, you get wide-eyed and you want that chance," Union assistant John Hackworth said. "We reiterate to these guys that when you get that chance, you need to take it . . . we [as a club] always talk about when we get a goal, can we get the next one to kill the game, [but] it just hasn't happened for us this year."
For the Union to be seven matches in and still not have a multi-goal game is a shock, coming from a lineup that on paper boasts a designated player (Freddy Adu), two former MLS rookie of the year runners-up (Farfan and Danny Mwanga) and a player brought in as the answer (Lionard Pajoy).
A quick look at the math tells the story. Through seven matches, the Union collectively accounts for 63 shots. An average of nine shots a game. Doesn't sound terrible until you look at the total shots on target: 17. Do the division and that accounts for less than 2.5 times an opposing goalkeeper gets tested.
Not exactly a threat.
Even more frustrating are the individual numbers. Pajoy, the Union's target striker, has taken 11 shots, but according to the stats, only two have been on frame. Farfan, another leader in shots (10) has seen a goalkeeper make only one save. Gabriel Gomez leads the team with the most on target (six) off nine shots. And as a result, he leads the team in goals, with three - two from the run of play.
Players have gone on record vowing to shoot more, and from what Hackworth said Wednesday, that message is finally starting to sink in. There isn't a soccer coach on this planet who has ever been upset over a missed shot as much as a missed opportunity to shoot.
For the Union to continue to improve on what is still very early in the 2012 campaign, shooting from all angles can never be construed as risky business.
PALOS A PLAYER:
How you define determination? Well, this week, a shining example comes in the form of 17-year-old Hector Palos. Palos, a junior goalkeeper at Great Valley High School in Malvern who made it to the finals of Sueno MLS, a grass-roots program designed to find the best Hispanic players in the country and present them an opportunity to join the academy of an MLS team. Last year, Palos made it to the second round of trials held locally at YSC Sports in Wayne.
This year, Palos was destined to show he should have gone further. But to do so, Palos had to try out for this year's Sueno MLS event in Seattle - not exactly the shortest ride from Great Valley. But after his original direct flight was canceled, Palos was forced to take a pair of connecting flights just to make it in time for tryouts. Jet lag be damned, Palos is among six finalists, widdled down from more than 400 applicants. This honor coincides with a weeklong trial at the Sounders youth academy and a berth in the final event, to air nationally via Univision's weekly Spanish sports show, Republica Deportiva.
"He is very excited; he made the decision to travel across the country, because he went with a mindset that he can do this - and he did," said Dave Moffett, varsity soccer coach at Great Valley. "He texted me over the weekend to let us know he was a finalist, and I can't tell you how happy we are for him. He's not your prototypical goalkeeper, but, as a modern 'keeper, he's tremendous. He has incredible quickness, great foot skills and he reads and reacts to what's happening on the field very well."
Compared by some observers to Real Salt Lake's Nick Rimando, the 5-9 Palos started out as a forward on Great Valley's junior varsity team before making the jump to varsity goalkeeper. Palos is the second big-time player to emerge from Great Valley within the past year - the Union took GV alum Jimmy McLaughlin, 19, as its second ever homegrown player in the offseason.
ODDS AND ENDLINES:
Tickets are still available for the Union's first friendly of the season, against German power Schalke 04 on Wednesday. Spanish star Raul is scheduled to make the trip, and Schalke will be only 3 days removed from its Bundesliga campaign in which it finished third and qualified for Champions League play next season. For tickets or more info, call 877-218-6466.
Union (2-4-1, seven points) at Seattle Sounders FC (5-1-1, 16 points)
When: Saturday, 4:30 p.m.
Where: Century Link Field, Seattle
TV: NBC Sports Network
On the web: Streaming at MLSSoccer.com
For kicks: Seattle sits third in a tightly contested Western Conference and hosts the Union following a 2-0 win against conference rival Los Angeles on Wednesday. The last time the Union played Seattle, in October of last season, was the last time the club scored more than one goal, as scores from Freddy Adu and Brian Carroll forged a 2-0 win . . . The Union looks to return to .500 on the road (1-2) this season. Its only road win was 1-0 against Chivas on April 21 . . . While much of the hype in Seattle has centered on forward Freddy Montero, fellow forward David Estrada leads the club in goals (four) and has proved to be an efficient finisher, needing only eight shots on goal for his four goals . . . Seattle does take chances when given the opportunity, with Montero among the league leaders in shots (35) and shots on goal (11) . . . Before leaving Wednesday's game against Los Angeles with a hip injury, Seattle goalkeeper Michael Gspurning had replaced longtime favorite Kasey Keller. Gspurning boasts a 0.46 goals against average and has four shutouts, but his status for Saturday is uncertain.
INJURY REPORT (as of Tuesday):
Out for the Union: Roger Torres, MF (left knee surgery recovery); Krystian Witkowski, FW (concussion)
Doubtful: Gabriel Farfan, D (left hamstring strain)
Questionable: Brian Carroll, MF (right hamstring strain)
Out for Seattle: Josh Ford, GK (right knee stress fracture); Andrew Weber, GK (left ankle sprain); Michael Tetteh, D (left hamstring strain); Steve Zakuani, MF (right leg fracture); Babayele Sodade, FW (right knee ACL tear)
Doubtful: Alvaro Fernandez, MF (right quadriceps strain)
Questionable: Patrick Ianni, D (lower back pain)