Faryd Mondragon's time on Colombia's national team has endeared him to the people of his native land and many others throughout the soccer world. At 39, Mondragon isn’t the same goalkeeper that burst onto the scene at the 1998 World Cup in France. He’s adapted his game to better suit his aging body but hasn’t lost his tough demeanor.
Mondragon began his now 20-year career at Deportivo Cali, the team of current Union loanee, midfielder Roger Torres. Moving around in South America between Colombian teams (Cali, Real Cartagena, Santa Fe), Argentine teams (Independiente and Argentina Juniors) and Paraguayan team Cerro Porteno eventually earned Mondragon a spot on the 1992 Summer Olympics team, along with a position on the 1998 World Cup squad. In ‘98 in France, the then 27-year-old goalkeeper was given the chance to play against England in Colombia’s last group stage match. Despite making some spectacular saves to keep Colombia in the hunt for the round of 16, Colombia fell to England 2-0 and finished with only three points from its three matches. German legend Franz Beckenbauer was quoted as saying that he felt that Mondragon was the best goalkeeper of the opening round of the World Cup.
A transfer to Spanish side Real Zaragoza followed the World Cup but Mondragon only played 13 times for Zaragoza before moving back to Argentina and reuniting with Independiente. After two years, and only 16 appearances, with Independiente, Mondragon headed back to Europe, where he would remain until signing with the Philadelphia Union on Jan. 20, 2011. A year at Metz in France led him to Turkey for six seasons. Galatasaray fans were sad to see him leave for Bundesliga team FC Koln after 185 appearances with the Turkish club. Three years with FC Koln were spent fighting off relegation and sitting towards the bottom of the middle of the Bundesliga table, after helping the side get promoted to the Bundesliga for the 2008 season. Mondragon will turn 40 during the 2011 MLS season and looks to play through at least 41 in America, while continuing to prove that he can play anywhere in the world at the highest level.
What will be the biggest adjustment Mondragon will have to make?
Mondragon doesn’t have too much to adjust to, beyond finding comfort in the four players in front of him. The 39-year-old Mondragon has already proven that he can play anywhere in the world and didn’t lose his starting role at FC Koln because of poor play. Spending stints in Colombia, Paraguay, Argentina, Spain, Turkey and Germany has created a hardened and experienced goalkeeper out of Mondragon. He has learned to not take failure from anyone, especially himself. What will cause him problems is his level of trust in the defenders who will either aid or abet the Colombian goalkeeper’s ability to keep shots out of the Union’s net. If Mondragon can feel safe behind the foursome of lefback Jordan Harvey, center backs Danny Califf and compatriot Carlos Valdes, along with right back Sheanon Williams, then there is no reason to believe that Mondragon will have trouble transitioning to MLS.
What kind of impact can Mondragon have on his team?
The Union scored 35 goals last season, good enough for 11th out of 16 teams. The problem was that the team let up 49 goals between goalkeepers Seitz and Brad Knighton. Seitz ended his tenure as the team’s starter with a dismal 1.8 goals against average (GAA) in 22 starts (23 games played). Knighton, his replacement and former back up, managed 1.1 GAA in eight starts but was benefited by Harvey, Califf, former Union center defender Michael Orozco-Fiscal and Williams playing together as a group for the first time. It turned out that the four were the best defensive grouping that the Union had it their inaugural season.
Mondragon was on a FC Koln team that was stuck in the duldrums of the German Bundesliga and that affected how his stats appear to the eye. GGA lines of 1.52, 1.28 and 1.67 from 2008-2010 don’t properly show how valuable Mondragon had been to Koln. If Mondragon simply comes in and plays at an average level for himself, it will easily improve the Union’s goalkeeping from last year to this year. His ability to manage a defense is his strongest trait. The 6-foot-5 Colombian is hardly seen without his mouth agape, screaming out orders to those in front of him. Combining his organization with adding Valdes to the starting line up will pay large dividends for the Union.
What's a reasonable expectation in terms of production and playing time?
It’s reasonable to believe that Mondragon will pay at least 30 of the 34 games that the Union will play this season. Piotr Nowak will likely want to rest Mondragon a couple of times throughout the season and to give rookies Thorne Holder and Zac MacMath the chance to see MLS action. Mondragon played in 31 and 32 games in 2008 and 2009, respectively, for Koln. He totalled 6,750 minutes over the last three years for Koln, despite only playing in 12 games during the first half of the 2010-2011 Bundesliga season. Four shutouts in those 12 games, including one versus FC Hollywood (Bayern Munich), showed that the 39-year-old wasn’t hurting because of his age and could still play with the best them of them. For a team that only had two clean sheets last year it’d be great to see more than one before the last eight games of the season. Around 32 games and a 0.90 GAA should be expected of a goalkeeper who has international experience at the highest level and is reportedly one of the highest players on the team.
What's the ceiling on Mondragon?
Mondragon not only has the ability to but is expected to be one of the best goalkeepers in MLS from the minute he steps onto the pitch. He could compete with Kevin Hartman, of FC Dallas, for best GAA or with Nick Rimando for Best XI goalkeeper. His ceiling is whatever his body will allow him to acheive. He’s no longer the quickest of goalkeepers but his positioning is still superior and his reflexes on saves still at a high level. Mondragon’s commitment to a high fitness level has provided him with the ability to continue onto (possibly) his mid-40’s at any level of soccer. In the very least, Mondragon’s effort level will never be questioned, as demonstrated from his emotions after a 2-0 loss in the 1998 World Cup or as seen in one of the many compilation videos of the Colombian great throughout his career.
- Report by Scott Kessler of the Brotherly Game