The 2011 Philadelphia Union is a much different team than last year. Gone is the Inaugural Season Hoopla. The club has drastically changed the attitude of a team from “We’re happy to compete” to “We mean business.” Look no further than the signing of Faryd Mondragon as proof. He’s the major reason why the Union are top of the table in the early part of this MLS season.
Mondragon’s signing was met with a great deal of fanfare. For one, it meant that Chris Seitz role on the team would either be bench player or shipped off to man the South Pole. More importantly, his signing showed everyone (Fans, Media, the League) that the Union were not taking any chances. Mondragon is a proven winner – having played on the Soccer World’s biggest stage in the Champion’s League (held my beloved Liverpool to a nil-nil draw) with Turkish Giant Galatasaray. His experience is what made it a great signing then – his performance this season is nothing short of phenomenal.
The story of the 2010 Union Goalkeepers was pretty bleak – two clean sheets the entire season. To add insult to injury, they literally fumbled multiple chances in to their own net. Not to belabor the subject, but it was laughable and the fact wasn’t lost on the likes of Nowak and Hackworth. Enter Faryd Mondragon and his current form. Three clean sheets in the first four matches and a loss to the Giant of the MLS the Los Angeles Galaxy – by one goal. To be blunt, he’s been stellar.
One of the most important duties of the goalkeeper is to organize and motivate your backline. Clearly, Chris Seitz and Brad Knighton, maybe through inexperience, did not accomplish this well enough last season. The fiery Mondragon has been a catalyst for change in this department. Where once a weakness last season, the back four has been in full on beast mode in the new campaign.
Danny Califf is crunching people but not getting over aggressive where it hurts the club. The new man Valdez has been a revelation alongside Califf. His strength, speed and intelligence has rubbed off on the two outside men in Sheanon Williams and Jordan Harvey. They know if they can’t mark their men, Valdez is up to the task. Williams especially is brimming with confidence. His speed and toughness, to go along with his Rory Delap like throws, have made him a staple this season and a fan favorite. Where last season looked as though four men were doing separate jobs on their terms, the back four is now playing at an incredible work rate – for each other. While I’m not on the pitch with them, I have this gut feeling that it’s all because of the presence of Faryd Mondragon.
Some people reading this may say something to the effect of having been lucky – particularly tonight with Juan Agudelo’s hitting the woodwork twice. That may be true, but those are the bounces that are finally going wide or high instead of off a glove and in the back of the net. Where I’d rather be lucky than good – Faryd Mondragon just happens to be both – and damnit, I’m glad he’s on my team.
What do you think of Mondragon’s season thus far? Is he the straw that stirs the Union’s Jack and Coke? Hit me up in the comments, Doopers.