He got his chance to start because of an injury. He’s earned a chance to keep his starting job because of his superb play.
Three months ago, Keon Daniel was a relatively unknown commodity to Union fans. He was a trialist working to earn a sniff of the pitch during a rigorous preseason stint.
In three regular-season starts, Daniel has done more than that. He’s evolved into the kind of attacking midfielder Union manager Peter Nowak needs.
“I think I got my chance because of Justin (Mapp) picking up his injury,” Daniel said recently at PPL Park. “I got a chance to play, and I took it and I did the best I can.
“I think (the technical staff) always like hard work. That’s something I always have and always bring. … Hard work always pays off. That’s something I do.”
Daniel and the Union (3-1-1, 10 points), fresh off a bye week, return to the pitch Saturday against the San Jose Earthquakes (1-3-2, 5 points). Kickoff is at 4 p.m. at PPL Park.
Daniel, inked to a contract on the eve of the Union’s season opener, has not disappointed. In fact, the 6-1 physical middie is exceeding expectations.
While Mapp has since recovered, midfielder Brian Carroll is still nagged by an injury. So Daniel is expected to get another start in Saturday’s match.
Though just 24 years old and in his first swing with the franchise, Daniel appears to blend well with his teammates. He makes his runs fluidly, his challenges cleanly and picks his spots to attack in the Union’s offensive third.
He comes with plenty of experience, having earned 46 caps with the national team of his native Trinidad and Tobago. His transition with the Union has been eased by the club’s signing of third-string goalkeeper Thorne Holder, also a T&T native and Daniel’s roommate.
“It’s good because it makes it even more comfortable, after football, you go home and talk to someone,” Daniel said. “It makes it easier knowing that we can relate to each other because we’re both from the same island.
“Thorne and I played U-20s together and, after that, we never saw each other because he came to school in the states (University of Maryland and Adelphi University in New York) and I turned pro.
We didn’t see each other for three, four years. I always knew him. So even if I saw him five years from now, we’d still be friends.”
Daniel’s not going to be the guy who will score for the Union, though they certainly could use another weapon with a nose for goal.
Despite ranking second in the Eastern Conference standings, the Union rank last in goals scored. But even in three starts, Daniel has shown a penchant for getting the Union organized as they attack.
He’s made the deft passes to put teammates in position to score. He’s covered plenty of ground to move the ball up the pitch. Additionally, he’s done so without making costly turnovers.
That’s why the Union, who have 11 midfielders on their roster, are more than happy to have Daniel among them.