Union defender Carlos Valdes is beginning to get his legs back, but he concedes there is still some progress to be made.
Valdes was on loan to two different teams for 19 months before returning to the Union on Aug. 4. In 2011, he helped lead the Union to their only Major League Soccer playoff spot, and the next year, he was on the MLS all-star team.
Before Valdes returned to the Union, his most recent action came when he played the entire game during Colombia's 4-1 World Cup win over Japan on June 24. Colombia eventually advanced to the quarterfinals before losing to Brazil, 2-1.
Valdes took some time off after the World Cup. His first game in his return to the Union was a 2-1 win over Montreal on Aug. 9 at PPL Park.
Valdes sat out the Union's semifinal U.S. Open Cup win at Dallas on Aug. 12 but returned for a 2-0 loss at Houston last Friday.
He has played all 90 minutes in each of his two games back.
"We had a couple weeks off after the World Cup, and starting over isn't that easy," said Valdes, 29. "I am trying to do my best."
Valdes brings a high level of intelligence to his center-back position, and he is a true quarterback of the defense. The main thing now is getting his wind back.
"Physically, I think he has a whole other level of fitness he can get to, and he soon will," Union interim manager Jim Curtin said. "But I was happy how he got through 90 minutes in a very difficult game with Houston."
The Union (6-9-9, 27 points) entered the weekend one point out of the fifth and final Eastern Conference playoff berth. On Sunday, the Union will host San Jose (6-9-7, 25 points) at 8 p.m. at PPL Park.
San Jose is coming off a 1-1 draw Wednesday at Seattle, a team that is a major MLS Cup contender.
The Union, who will host Seattle in the Sept. 16 U.S. Open Cup final, will play seven of their final 10 MLS games at home.
"I missed my time here, and I love playing here in front of the home crowd," Valdes said.
He was a crowd favorite in his previous tenure and received an enthusiastic response from the crowd in his return game against Montreal.
Still, early on, Valdes is shaking off the rust, but as the Union make a push for the playoffs, his veteran savvy will be essential.
"He is a competitor who raises the level in training," Curtin said. "He is very intense in training and gets on the guys in the right way. He is a leader who leads by example."