February 14, 2012
ALBRIGHT IS ALL RIGHT
Nowak says he feels he can keep veteran right fullback healhy in 2012
By Michael Lewis
|Union manager Peter Nowak on Chris Albright (above): "He will help everybody with his championship experience."
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
What's one man's garbage is another man's gold.
That might go double for soccer teams.
Jettisoned by the Red Bulls on Nov. 30, Chris Albright has found yet another home in Major League Soccer, by going home -- to his hometown team, the Philadelphia Union..
"I'm thrilled," Albright said on a conference call. "It's sort of come full circle for me to be able to come back to my hometown and go to a great organization that is still in its infancy."
The 33-year-old Albright found out by a phone call from the Red Bulls that they weren't going to pick up his option.
"They were going in a different direction," Albright said. "That was sort of the extent of our parting. I wish them the best going forward.
"I'm sort of glad there's a new chapter in my story. I'm thrilled it's with my hometown club, the Philadelphia Union."
So was Union manager Peter Nowak, who cited Albright's three MLS Cups. "He will help everybody with his championship experience," he said "Chris is a great example. He trains very hard."
Albright battled several leg injuries with the Red Bulls the last two years. When he was healthy he was solid at right fullback. But he played only 26 games out of a possible 64 over the past two seasons.
Red Bulls general manager and sporting director Erik Soler admitted it was a gamble to trade two low draft picks to the New England Revolution in 2010 for Albright, who had played only one game the previous season due to a knee injury. Last season Albright battled hernia problems and was sidelined for the season with a right calf strain on Sept. 21.
Still, Nowak was optimistic that Albright would stay healthy.
"Because we work a little bit different here]," he said on a conference call. "We try to keep players fresh throughout the season and keep them healthy."
Nowak also cited the team's medical stuff "that can predict when a player is tired and needs some time off. Or, we can shuffle the lineup a little bit so the players will not get major injuries throughout the season. With Chris, it's the same. We need to see where we are after the two weeks and give him a couple of days off. The balance of a hard session vs. a mild session or regeneration.
"He's not getting any younger. He needs to take care of his body as well. We will try to help him in every aspect of regeneration."
The Union appears to have its back four set, so it appears he will have to battle for a starting job.
"We don't know what's going to happen," Nowak said. "Chris knows his role. Regardless of the position, he needs to challenge the guys in front of him. He needs to stay healthy. We also will have a lot of benefits from his experience. When the timing is right whe can push for a starting spot. It's a good take for all of us."
Albright also can play center back besides right fullback. "He is a highly regarded defender," Nowak said.
Whether he starts or comes off the bench, it is not a problem to Albright.
"If that means coming off the bench, if that means working with the kids on the reserve team, I'm going to do it," he said. "It's no issue."
Nowak also indicated that the Union acquired Albright not just for the present, but for after he hangs up his cleats for good.
After playing 13 seasons in Major League Soccer, which has included stints with the Miami Fusion, D.C. United, LA Galaxy, Revolution and Red Bulls, Albright is finally coming home.
"Everybody's real excited," he said. "There's a lot of people I'm close with. I have a big family who have played soccer and have been around the game for a lot of years. It's been a great reaction. I've gotten a lot of great feedback from all the people who are close to me. It's been a tremendous reaction."
Someone asked him what it was like stepping onto the PPL Field, the Union's home in Chester, Pa. Albright played there with the Red Bulls in 2010.
"I wasn't as welcomed as I think the next time I will be at PPL," he said.
On the flip side, it will be interesting to see what the welcome will be at Red Bull Arena on July 21.