Imagine starting your first MLS match against your club's biggest rival.
That's what happened to Keon Daniel, who played 90 minutes on Saturday in Philadelphia Union's 1-0 victory against the New York Red Bulls.
“I guess the best part,” Daniel said Saturday night in a jubilant locker room, “is that I didn’t have a lot of time to think. I didn’t have a lot of time to process it.
I think if I had three or four days, it might have been tougher. Really, I found out earlier on Saturday and just focused in for the match.
It was a great feeling. I was honored and excited all at the same time.”
After the Union defeated the Red Bulls before a record crowd of 19,027 at PPL Park, Daniel was still reveling in the victory. There wasn’t quite enough time to reflect on the magnitude of the situation.
“Walking out of the tunnel with the fans going crazy, hearing your name announced, seeing the fans standing and clapping … it was something. I was kind of in a zone out there. I kept telling myself to slow down once the game started and not try to go too fast. I was pleased with my performance and I’m anxious to see the film.”
Daniel – who also started for the Union in a U.S. Open Cup match three days earlier – signed with the club on March 18 from the Puerto Rico Islanders of the North American Soccer League.
Daniel first turned pro in August of 2006 with United Petrotrin of the TT Pro League, the top division in his native Trinidad and Tobago, following a training stint with English Premier League club Manchester United.
Two years later, the T&T international trialed with EPL club West Ham United, but instead joined TT Pro League side Caledonia AIA in May of ‘09.
Daniel joined the Islanders in June of ‘10, scoring two goals and adding two assists in 16 appearances to help lead the club to a league title.
When the Union eventually came calling, it was one of the easiest decisions he could make.
“I was really happy when I was able to sign,” said Daniel, who has eight goals in 46 career caps for the T&T national team after debuting in January ‘08 at the age of 21.
“To find out you’re starting against New York in just the fourth match of the season was so incredible. The whole experience is something I’ll always remember.”
Daniel provided invaluable width and looked extremely poised playing against a quality opponent.
His intangibles were immediately noticeable to his teammates.
“Keon reads the field really well and he’s smooth,” said midfielder Justin Mapp, who manned the opposite wing. “I thought he was really, really good. He has great technique and all the skills you’re looking for.”
“I thought Keon did a super job,” added forward Sebastien Le Toux. “We’re very happy to have him. He’s so technically sound.”
Daniel isn’t exactly sure what will transpire the rest of the season. He knows this, though – he’ll do whatever it takes to find playing time.
“If the technical staff wants me on one side or another, playing different positions, I’ll do it,” Daniel said. “I want to play. It was a great night for me and getting the win is amazing.
The atmosphere was something to see. I hope for many more nights like this one and I’m so happy to be playing for Philadelphia Union.”