CHESTER, Pa. -- Throughout the long and tedious 34-game regular season, the Union have relied heavily on the consistent and reliable play of veteran center back Danny Califf, who helped guide the young back line to success.
And with the playoffs looming on Sunday, in the first of a two-game aggregate series against the Houston Dynamo, the weight on Califfs shoulders will be at an all-time high to push his group even further.
The big thing is that when you enter the playoffs or any type of competition or knock-out round, the intensity jumps up to 20 percent, Califf said, describing the advice he gave to his teammates. I think the biggest thing is about matching the other teams intensity. You have to bring it out of yourself in a controlled manner. You have to still be able to do the things youve been doing well all season, and understand the game will be quicker, more emotional. You have to know that going in so that youre not surprised by it.
The 31 year old, who is an eight-year veteran of the MLS, provided a calming maturing balance on the back end as his team worked to find their way into the postseason. Matched up with international transfer Carlos Valdes, 21-year-old Sheanon Williams and 23-year old Gabriel Farfan, along with another international transfer in goalie Faryd Mondragon, Califf owns the lone MLS playoff experience in the back for the Union.
A characteristic that could prove invaluable come Sunday.
Ive been in a lot of these games, said Califf, a former US National Team player. They are big games and you have to understand that going in. But the key is really trying to do your job early, get comfortable, get into the match and enjoy it. Its one of the few times in the sport where games really matter and its a fun time to play.
But where Califfs role will really make an impact is in his styletailor made for postseason play. As in most sports, defense and hunger to win rules the postseason in the MLS. Its physical, its grinding and winning is built on the back of play in the defensive third simply winning more one-on-one battles.
There were times in the year where we tried to open up and play a bit more offensive, but where weve gotten most of our results is by grinding out games, said Califf, whose team has won eight games by one goal. Pretty soccer doesnt come out during the playoffs, its the team that wants it the most. I know that and the guys who have been here before know that. Its something we talked about as a group, but the young guys will not fully understand until you get into the game and have some of these games under their belt.
Califf, at 6-foot-1, plays a big, physical game and he wont back down from contact. Yet, even as an aggressive defender, hes also a simple player that makes the correct play more often than not and is always positionally reliable, something coach Peter Nowak says produces wins in the playoffs.
I expect it to be more grabbing and scratching and the referee is going to let things go that they would call during the season, said Nowak. We have to be ready for it. Houston is a big and physical team. Its about who is smarter, who is more organized, who is more disciplined and who recognizes when the plays can go against up and clean it up.
And with tempered Califf influencing his peers from the back, the Union have a good chance of completing Nowaks rules of playoff success.
E-mail Ryan Bright at email@example.com