Sunday, April 20, 2014
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Philadelphia Union finalize departure of captain Carlos Valdés to Colombian club Independiente Santa Fe

Philadelphia Union defender and captain Carlos Valdés may be returning to his native Colombia. (Michael Perez/AP file photo)
Philadelphia Union defender and captain Carlos Valdés may be returning to his native Colombia. (Michael Perez/AP file photo)

After a protracted negotiation, the Philadelphia Union confirmed Tuesday evening that defender and captain Carlos Valdés has moved on to Colombian club Independiente Santa Fe.

The deal is a one-year loan with an option for Santa Fe to buy Valdés' rights thereafter.

Union manager John Hackworth acknowledged that Valdés' desire to help Colombia reach next year's World Cup was the primary factor in the decision to let him go.

"We will certainly miss Carlos for this season, but this is a unique situation,” Hackworth said in a statement issued by the team. “We have done everything possible to make sure this move works for both the player and our club. Our hope is that this allows Carlos the best chance of reaching his dream of playing in the 2014 World Cup."

It's clear that Colombian national team head coach José Pekerman influenced Valdés' decision to return to his home country. Pekerman's disdain for Major League Soccer has become increasingly apparent. Although Valdés played twice for the cafeteros while with the Union, it seems that Pekerman's message got across.

Of course, it helps that Colombia has been quite succesful during Pekerman's tenure. The team is in third place in the South American World Cup qualifying standings with just over half of the rounds played. Colombia hasn't qualified for the World Cup since 1998, and right now a place on international soccer's biggest stage is well within reach.

"Because of the things I have done in the United States, I am very grateful to the league [MLS] and the Union," Valdés told Colombian radio station Antena 2 last week. "Although the club didn't do so well, I had a great year and had the chance to get to the national team." 

Indeed, Valdés is not the only Colombian who is heading from MLS to the Liga Postobon. Fredy Montero, the Seattle Sounders' best goal-scorer since the team joined MLS, is heading to powerhouse club Millionarios.  The Seattle Times reported that his deal, like Valdés', is also a one-year loan with an option to buy.

Montero was revered in Seattle, and publicly thanked Sounders fans with a rare English-language statement on his Twitter feed after agreeing to move back home.

Valdés' return home reunites him with a team he knows very well. He played for Independiente in 2009 and 2010 before coming to Philadelphia.

Indeed, the terms of Valdés' move to the Union were similar to the ones by which he is departing: a one-year loan with an option to buy his contract. It turned out that the Union bought Valdés' rights in August of 2011, before the loan term finished.

In addition to earning Valdés more exposure with his country's national team, moving to Santa Fe would also get him into the prestigious Copa Libertadores. The tournament is South America's equivalent of the Champions League.

Playing in Libertadores games could get Valdés attention from scouts with European teams. Valdés has said publicly that like so many other players around the world, he wants to move to Europe some day. For as much as MLS has grown in recent years, Valdés said going to South America gives him the best chance to cross the Atlantic.

"When I went to the United States I was always thinking about taking the next step [to Europe] and playing in the best leagues," Valdés told Antena 2.

Union fans mourning the departure of yet another team captain can take solace in a few things.

In the short term, the team appears to be in reasonably good stead defensively with the trio of Jeff Parke, Bakary Soumaré and Amobi Okugo. There will also be an opportunity in Thursday's SuperDraft to shore up the team's back line depth.

And in the long term, the Union could benefit financially more than once if Independiente eventually buys Valdés' rights. There’s every chance that the deal would be structured so that the Union would earn a portion of any transfer fee gained from Valdés' subsequent moves. 

Jonathan Tannenwald Philly.com
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