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More Philly Union strangeness wafting out of PPL Park

Chivas USA v Philadelphia Union

CHESTER, PA- JUNE 25: Danny Califf #4 of the Philadelphia Union and Justin Braun #17 of Chivas USA battle for the ball at PPL Park on June 25, 2011 in Chester, Pennsylvania. The Union won 3-2. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)

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The situation in at PPL Park deteriorates by the day. Public perception-wise, Union coach Peter Nowak has one foot in the grave – and insists on planting his other one on a banana peel.

Word comes today from the Brotherly Game site that veteran center back Danny Califf has been left out of the travel squad for this week’s meeting with the Chicago Fire’s talented offensive arsenal. It’s a move that really has Philly fans bamboozled. Color me similarly “bam” and “boozled.”

Califf and Carlos Valdes formed a strong central pairing along the PPL Park back line just a year ago. Califf cleaned up his game after a 2010 season where he relied too often on brawn over brains, frequently putting his team in trouble by fouling in bad places or picking up non-essential cards.

So, Califf was solid in 2011. Not outstanding, but a reliable MLS center back, a little slower than ideal and ripe for occasional exposure by one of the league’s faster set of feet. Then again, know-how and positioning go a long ways, and Califf could reasonably check those boxes in 2011.

So, it’s hard to fathom moving Califf to the bench as Nowak did last week, insisting the player is injured, never mind the player saying “not so.” Besides, can Chris Albright, a longtime outside back, really be a better option in the middle for Nowak?

The other possibility here is something I’ve seen around MLS before. Managers take a public hit in the short term by benching a superior talent in favor of someone more willing to toe the company line. The theory goes, as FC Dallas manager Schellas Hyndman told me once about Dax McCarty, you “deal with a problem now, or you’ll be dealing with it later.”

McCarty came back later and told me, in effect, “I was being a young knucklehead, and Schellas was right to make me sit and think about things.”

I’m not saying Califf is a locker room problem. I don’t know one way or the other. I’m just trying to make sense of Nowak’s quirky personnel choices at such a critical time, just like so many others are this afternoon. Quite a few of them in the greater Philadelphia area.