Union's Konopka says young 'keeper trio ready to shine

Chris Konopka

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CHESTER, Pa. – Just days away from the start of the 2012 season, the Philadelphia Union’s three goalkeepers have just nine MLS appearances between them.

But new acquisition and third-string ’keeper Chris Konopka has a message for Union fans that are concerned about the club’s lack of experience in net: Don’t be.

“Everyone always banks on looking for veteran goalkeepers – guys who have 100 or 200 or 500 games under their belt,” said Konopka, who along with fellow journeyman Chase Harrison, will back up 20-year-old starter Zac MacMath this season. “But it’s proven at the same time for plenty of teams that they don’t need that veteran guy.

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“[Houston’s] Tally Hall, you look at him and how fantastic of a year he had last year. It was his first year as a No. 1 goalkeeper. He’s my age. And he had one or two games underneath his belt before he stepped into the starting role.”

For the 26-year-old Konopka, it also helps that Union’s three goalkeepers have meshed well during the preseason, free from any kind of bad blood or rivalry. Both Harrison and Konopka understand, after all, that MacMath is the main man. Their own roles are to provide support and assistance throughout the season.

“I think it’s a fantastic situation,” said Konopka, who previously played for Kansas City (2007), Bohemian FC (2008), Sporting Fingal (2009), Waterford United (2010), Columbus (2011) and New York (2011). “I think the three of us are feeding off each other and we all have different aspects of the game that we’re good at. Whoever steps in goal that night, the other two ’keepers are going to be supporting that guy.”

Much of Konopka’s positive outlook stems from his excitement about joining a team near his hometown of Tom River, N.J. The goalkeeper grew up a big Philly sports fan and had Eagles season tickets, before playing for Providence College and then beginning his professional journey.

“I always told myself it would be an honor and amazing to play for this club,” he said.

That chance first materialized after the Union parted ways with last year’s starting netminder, Faryd Mondragón, at the beginning of the preseason. At the time, Konopka was training with the Red Bulls but was unsure if there’d be a place for him in New York. The combination of Mondragón’s exit, his Philly roots and his shared Polish heritage with Union manager Peter Nowak made it a perfect storm for him to switch clubs.

“As soon as Mondi left, I talked to Robby [Vartughian, Union goalkeeping coach] and Diego [Gutiérrez, sporting director] and made moves to get myself here,” he said. “When the opportunity came to me, I didn’t have to think twice about it. New York was fantastic to me last year and I had a good opportunity to be there, but this was too good to pass up.”

Now he’s ready to prove that the Union goalkeeping situation is far more stable than some people might think.

“Everything’s been positive about what we’ve been doing,” Konopka said. “We have a tight little group and I think we’re hopefully going to push each other to be a good goalkeeping unit.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at djzeitlin@gmail.com.

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