The 26-year-old midfielder of Philadelphia Union is having the best season of his life, breaking one club record after another. A chat with Dániel Gazdag about his life in the US, his son’s goals, the increased interest, and hopes of a first-place finish.
|Photo: Imago Images|
– Do you know off the top of your head how many club records you have broken so far this year?
– Two? – asked Dániel Gazdag, the 26-year-old midfielder of Philadelphia Union that leads the Eastern Division of Major League Soccer (MLS) and who has 15 caps for the Hungarian national team.
– Not more?
– Let’s see: I scored the most goals in the regular season, nobody else has scored in five consecutive league games but me, and I have the most goals and assists combined. That makes three then.
Born: March 2, 1996; Nyíregyháza
– Plus, you are the first midfielder in Philadelphia’s history to score ten goals.
– Oh, right! That was a long time ago…
– Fresh memory: what happened against Atlanta this weekend?
– We played zero to zero.
– No goal, no assist, no victory?!
– It happens – fortunately rarely. The game was important for the opponent, and the draw preserved their chances of making the playoffs. The artificial pitch was a bit unusual for me as we rarely play on it. Atlanta attacked more, but they didn’t really have any big chances, it was a game of a draw.
– The one point also came in handy: with two rounds to go in the regular season, you are five points ahead of Montreal.
– We are determined to win our main group and we have a good chance of doing so. The best thing would be if Los Angeles FC didn’t score more than us in the other conference league matches, because it would mean that we could enjoy home advantage throughout the playoffs. If we get there, even in the grand final. Right now, we’re in the same position, with sixty-four points, but they’re in a better position because they’ve won more games. However, we’ve got two easier games left while they’ve got two tougher ones.
– Are you the reason Philadelphia is performing so well?
– Partly. And because of the others, of course. We’ve been doing really well in the second half of the season. I’m not short of goals and assists, but my teammates are doing their part as well. Everyone is doing what they do best. We’ve won eleven of our last fourteen games, and many people are already talking about us as champions.
What a surprise: almost 20 goals!
– Did you think before the start that you and your team would have such a good year?
– After reaching the semifinals last year where we lost to New York City after eleven players had contracted the coronavirus in the days leading up to the clash, I was confident. I was less so confident that I would score nineteen goals by this stage of the tournament. If someone had told me before the first round that I would score ten or twelve goals, I wouldn’t have believed it. Not that I regret exceeding my own expectations.
– Does the fact that you and your family feel comfortable in the U.S. play a part in this?
– Yes! We’re not only used to Philadelphia, but we’ve grown to love it. We were greeted with what we expected in advance, and perhaps even more than we expected. We ended up in a brilliant place, in fact, I can’t think of anything that would have been a disappointment. Of course, the first month or two were difficult because I was still on my own, I was the only one from my family who got the visa at first. In addition, Gréta was expecting our second child at the time, and we were trying to decide whether giving birth would be better in Hungary or the U.S. Thank goodness, the visa issue was resolved in time, so Gréta and our son were able to fly out and Maxim was born in Philadelphia last September. In hindsight, I can say that, like me, my family had no problem adjusting. And the fact that my loved ones feel comfortable makes my life easier too.
“What I’d say about Daniel is the work he does defensively, which does not show up usually in MVP voting, I ask everyone who has a vote to watch just how much this guy does off the ball.
The ground that he covers, the way he takes away the other team’s almost two sixes in games. So yes, the goal contributions are record numbers for Daniel and I love seeing him score and I love seeing him get assists, but if you talk around MVP – most valuable player – and doing all the things that game involves, on the defensive side Daniel’s as good as anyone in this league. I think it’s obviously going to come down to [Gazdag] and Mukhtar for the MVP of the league.”
– Do you still live in the suburban apartment complex where you moved to last year?
– It’s a peaceful, quiet area, many of my teammates live there with their families, and we see each other often in our free time – there’s no reason to move. Our eldest son Danika was in a so-called preparatory school last year, but he’s just started school. He already speaks English well and can read and write. He loves school. I was afraid at first, but it’s nice to see how well he is overcoming the obstacles.
– On the pitch too?
– Yes. He’s been a player for YSC since the age of six. He has two training sessions a week and a game on Saturday mornings.
– Do you sit in the stands at those times?
– If I can, I’m there. It is usually possible when we play at home. I was worried at first, but then I realized I didn’t have to be. Danika has already scored more goals than me…
|National team head coach Marco Rossi (left) also congratulated Dániel Gazdag on his excellent performance (PHOTO: ATTILA TÖRÖK)|
– How come he doesn’t play football where his father does?
– Because at Union, they’ve been working with kids from the age of eight. That’s two years away, we’ll see what happens. In any case, we have a well-established system in our lives now, and we really enjoy it.
He takes his son to school in the morning
– Can you fill us in on that too?
– Oh, it’s nothing special, it’s just that we always train in the morning with Philadelphia. After waking up, I take Danika to school, then I go to the training center where I have to arrive by nine. The breakfast together is followed by a training session starting at ten and then we have lunch. I get home around two o’clock and pick up my son at four. If he has a training session, I take him there, but if not, we plan something or just hang out at home. Life is good like this with two little kids.
– Is there too much rigor when it comes to having a meal together?
– Well, we don’t eat Hungarian ham and bean soup… Nutritionists pay attention to the food on their players’ tables, but athletes also know what they can eat before and after matches and training sessions. We believe that what we can add to success with a healthy diet is really worth adding.
– Let’s go back to the pitch: my colleague János Kamler, while browsing through your statistics and analyzing your style of play, concluded that you are the Hungarian Zico…
– Unfortunately, I haven’t seen Zico play football, but I’ve heard about him – only good things. The parallel is obviously an exaggeration, but if someone compares me to him, I thank him. The fact that I’m doing well in football is also due to the fact that our head coach Jim Curtin found my place on the team. And the rest of the team finds me with the ball… It’s good that a lot of opportunities come down to me. I’ll come on in the second wave or replace the backing striker. I’m even lucky, because the ball often bounces in front of me, but of course, I have to kick that in, too.
Five years ago, Honvéd won the championship with them, and they are still close to each other. In addition to their friendly relationship, Dušan Vasiljević is also the manager who has helped Dániel Gazdag in his career.
“I’ve already decided to ask him for a phone charger for my birthday because my phone has been ringing so much in the last few weeks that I can’t stop charging it…,” said Dušan Vasiljević. “It’s no joke that he has scored 19 goals as a midfielder, which has caught the attention of many, and experts also see him as a defensive as well as an attacking player. He is a real number ten player who is capable of brilliant solutions! There was already a lot of interest in the summer, with one of Scotland’s most prestigious and strongest teams, and two top Italian clubs in the last minute of the transfer window calling him up. The offer had to be turned down as Philadelphia asked him not to transfer until the end of the season, as the team would have a better chance of winning the title with him. More negotiations are to come for sure in the winter, and if he performs well on the national team, that will only increase interest. I think it’s a realistic goal for him to continue in the topflight, but Union will do everything in its power to keep him. We’re in for an exciting few weeks for sure.”
– How would you describe your role?
– Maybe I’m player number ten. We play a four-four-two formation, I’m the top of the rhombus in midfield. I really enjoy the role.
– Jim Curtin also raved the other day that you are doing your fair share of defense.
– That’s crucial, even if it’s a less spectacular part of football; statistics don’t record how much running back is going on. At the same time, our game is based on attack, I usually have to pick up the opponent’s number six and prevent them from building an attack. I think I’m pretty good at that too – or at least I am not walking around when the other team is in possession of the ball.
– One last quote from the head coach: Dániel Gazdag has a good chance to be the MVP!
– That’s nice of him. I hope he votes for me… It would mean a lot to be voted the league’s most valuable player, but it’s just the like the goalkeeper title: if it works out, it’s wonderful, but I’m not going to force anything. Another reason for that is that Nashville’s Hany Mukhtar is having a great season, and most people think he’s the favorite to win the title. Nevertheless, I am very happy that my name came up because it proves that I am doing something right.
|His goal against England in the Nations League (Photo: AFP)|
– Have you become a better footballer since transferring to the United States?
– Definitely! It’s the first time in my career that I’ve played abroad, but all the feedback I’ve received shows that I’m doing well. I have improved in all areas. In the beginning, I was a little scared, I didn’t know how I would cope with being thousands of kilometers away from home, after all, I spent eleven years at Honvéd. In fact, I grew up in Kispest where I first became a topflight footballer, then a national team player, not to mention a champion and cup winner over the years. It was a wonderful time in Kispest, I left with life-changing experiences – and I took the plunge. I wondered how I would be received by my teammates, I even thought there would be players who would see me as a competition and therefore not be too friendly with me, but I soon realized I was wrong. Everyone is very nice. It may seem like a small thing, but it was nice to be invited to join a program already on the third day. We did indeed find common ground quickly, although it took me a while to get the hang of American English, I’m not having any problems on that front today. Over the last year or so, I think I’ve proven that Philadelphia has done me a good trade, and that’s because I feel loved and appreciated at the club.
A successful period at the club and with the national team
– When he committed to Union last May, Transfermarkt put your market value at one million euros which is now three and a half. Do you think it’s realistic that your value has increased so much in sixteen months?
– That my value has gone up, I do. Although inflation must have had something to do with it… But seriously, I feel I’ve had a successful period, both at my club and in the national team, where I’ve scored goals against strong teams such as Poland and England. So, it makes sense that I’m valued higher now than I was before.
– Do you think there will be a club that will pay millions of euros for you?
– There was interest from several countries in the summer, but as Union didn’t want to sell me, it didn’t come to the point where I had to decide whether to stay or go.
– This question will certainly come up in the winter…
– We know how it is… If there is an offer that suits Philadelphia as well as it suits me, there could be the option for transferring. I must add that there is an option in my contract, which has come into effect as I have played in most of the games this season, so I am now a Union player until next December. The managers have already indicated that they would like me to stay longer. Even an extension is in the cards. But if one of the top leagues was looking for me, I would find it hard to refuse.
– I suppose parting would be easier with a gold medal around your neck.
– When we talked about this a month ago, I said that we were increasingly confident that we could win the title. Since then, the feeling has only grown more. The managers are starting to expect the win from us… It’s not that the more we talk about it, the more chance we’ll have, but I can promise you one thing: we’ll do our best to be number one. In any case, we aren’t in a hopeless situation.
– Is there a football fever in Philadelphia?
– Yes. The fans are incredibly enthusiastic. Last season fans attended our games, but mainly the playoffs were full house. This year, all the tickets are selling fast, so the atmosphere is good. More and more people in town are talking about us being champions, and there is a lot of talk about us on various television programs, which is worth mentioning because basketball, American football, and baseball have been the main attractions so far. What’s more, recently, something that has never happened before happened: our goalkeeper, Andre Blake, received an award from a television company.
– We left one of the most important questions to the end: what will happen against Germany and Italy in the Nations League?
– I hope we can pick up where we left off in June. We’ve been looking forward to being back together, and the results of the first four games have been a huge boost. We’ve made no promises before, and we’re not making any now either, but we can guarantee that we’ll try to make the most of the two remaining games. In any case, it’s an interesting situation: we could win our group, but we could also be knocked out of League A. I’d be happy if we go into the last group game against Italy with a chance of finishing first. We’ve proved over the last year or two that we can be worthy opponents for the strongest teams, and that’s our aim now too.
– Will Marco Rossi give you a chance as a starter?
– Unfortunately, Roland Sallai’s injury came at the worst time. I was particularly sad because he is one of my best friends in the team. The last time we spoke, he told me that he would like to play in the Nations League, which would be only possible if we finish at the top of the group. So be it! In the meantime, someone has to replace him, and if it’s me, I’ll do my best to make sure that he says he was happy with me in the end. Then, when he’s recovered, he can sit on the bench…
Translated by Vanda Orosz