By JOHN BOSCHINI
You won't hear stories about Michael Farfan giving impassioned halftime speeches. You won't see him talk trash on the field and you'll never, ever hear him talk about his individual talent.
"He's not outwardly like a cheerleader, like a pusher or a vocal person on the field" University of North Carolina head coach Elmar Bolowich said. "His play on the field is his leadership way. He can make that one play that breaks the ice. Our guys know what kind of impact he can have and respect that."
That's why it was so difficult, on both the player and the Heels, that the senior midfielder spent much of the second half of the season on benches or in locker rooms, unable to play due to injury or suspension.
"Ask anyone who's injured, it's not fun," said Farfan, who has scored five goals and distributed three assists in 18 games. "You want to be out there playing, and you want to be out there contributing and it's difficult when you can't."
On Oct. 19, in a game against South Carolina, Farfan was carted off the field with a severe ankle sprain. The North Carolina medical staff told Bolowich that one of his star players would be out for at least four weeks.
"He showed up two weeks later ready to be inserted into the lineup," said Bolowich, who thinks the time off might have been good for Farfan. "Sometimes seeing things from the sidelines gets you more in tune with the rest of the team. It also made him just hungrier to get back and contribute."
Just four games after his return, in the ACC Championship loss to Maryland, Farfan was shown the first straight red card of UNC's season, and a controversial one at that. But now with his fitness back and suspensions behind him, Farfan has been instrumental in North Carolina's historic, penalty-kick filled run to the College Cup. This weekend, the transfer from Cal-State Fullerton returns to his home state to play in his second national semifinal.
"It'll be nice to go back and play in one of the stadiums I played in at Fullerton," Farfan said. "My family doesn't really get to see me play in too many games and neither do my friends, so it'll be a pretty special experience."
Farfan says that he's more comfortable in a distribution role, describing himself as the "quarterback" of the Tar Heel offense.
Bolowich said that Farfan has grown into a leader since his arrival at North Carolina.
"If a teammate does something he doesn't like, he's not afraid to let them know about it," Bolowich said. "He doesn't call them names or anything. He just gives very specific instructions and the team has responded well to that."
Regardless of what happens in Southern California, this will be the last week Farfan plays in a sky-blue shirt. He says coming to UNC was one of the best decisions of his life, and Bolowich has little doubt that Farfan will make a smooth transition into the professional game.
"If you're a coach you want more Michael Farfans on your team," Bolowich said. "That's the kind of guy you're looking for. I think he's going to have a great career."