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Season review: Danny Califf

Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz

Editor’s note: At the end of the 2010 season, we posted a series of season reviews of every Philadelphia Union player. Over the next several weeks PSP continues with a review of the 2011 season.

After an uneven 2010 season, Danny Califf was a player reborn in the Union’s second season. Though he lost the captaincy to new arrival goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon, it did little to slow the tattooed centerback from carving out an excellent year. What brought about the turn around?

The aforementioned Mondragon was a steady presence behind him and he had a world class partner in Carlos Valdes. These changes gave him the consistent partnerships he never had in the Union’s first year. Gone where the days of Califf trying to do too much and getting caught out of position. Instead, Danny was allowed to just do his job and he did it well—he even got on the score sheet for the first time with the Union. When the Dragon went out with an injury, Califf was there to help rookie Zac MacMath settle between the pipes. Even though the armband was gone, he was every bit a leader on the field. He is probably only second to Sebastian Le Toux as the face of the team.

 High point

First game of the season in Houston against the Dynamo, in the fifth minute, Califf buries a ball coming hard off the cross bar after a Sebastian Le Toux shot. He then spent the next 85 minutes cementing the Union’s defense and led them to the an opening day shutout win on the road. This set the tone for how both he and the defense would play for most of year.

 Low point

The playoffs against Houston. This was a low point for the defense as a whole, with the mind boggling move in the first leg to go with a five man back line with Migs as a sorta-but-not-quite sweeper. The shift a zonal-marking set up in the second, Califf and his partners in the back struggled. He was vocal in the press about the situation and his displeasure over it. The whole thing was a strange way to end the season and almost showed a lack of trust to both Califf and the defense.


Califf feasted all year on balls in the air. He and his Carlos Valdes could be seen clearing cross after cross out of the Union’s 18. And the big knuckle-dragging strikes that many MLS teams seem to employ had very little luck against Captain Ink. He is rarely outworked and is a natural leader, being one of the more vocal Union players on the field.


Danny isn’t the quickest player, and does struggle against the speedier forwards in the league. And because of this lack of pace, you hold your breath when he ventures to far upfield, for fear he could get caught in possession.


With Carlos Valdes at his side, and Mondragon in goal, Califf’s 2011 form should continue into next season. Despite his physical play and being on the other side of 30, he has been relatively injury free. If he avoids the injury bug and stays on the field Danny should provide the the Union with solid play and gutsy leadership for a few more years to come. Looking even further down the line, Califf has been taking courses for his coaching license. I can’t think of a better candidate to be the first Union player to walk off the field and onto the sidelines. And honestly, who wouldn’t love to see Captain Ink in a suit?

*Stat chart legend:
POS: Position; GP: Games Played; GS: Games Started; MINS: Minutes; PA: Passes Attempted; PC: Passes Completed; P%: Passing Accuracy Percentage; SHTS: Shots Faced; SV: Saves; GA: Goals Allowed; GAA: Goals Allowed Average; PKG/A: Penalty Goals/Attempted; W; Wins; L: Losses; T: Ties; ShO: Shutouts; W%: Win Percentage; SV%: Save Percentage; FC: Fouls Committed; FS: Fouls Suffered; YC: Yellow Cards; RC: Red Cards


  1. I don’t mind Califf, but he cannot be the backbone. He’s one dimensional; a beast facing up or crossing, but mediocre at best on rushes / quick strikes / speedy forwards as you mentioned.

  2. I love the guy despite his love of Dave Matthews, and he and Valdes made for one hell of a first choice tandem.

    That said, this season we MUST bring in some depth at center back. Not only do we not have any real options past them should either get hurt, it would be nice to potentially have a different look against the pacey forwards that Califf can struggle against.

  3. Valdes made him better. The biggest difference from year one to year two defensively was the addition of Valdes. Not Mondragon.

    • Couldn’t agree more. They make a good pairing, both can play to their respective strengths. Valdes’s speed and technical quality have made Califf better. I do think Dragon’s vocal leadership and physical bearing inspires yet calms Califf. We saw a Califf more reminiscent of 2010 when Dragon went down (although that coincided with Valdes’s drop in form).

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