CHESTER, Pa. – It took a moment for Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Faryd Mondragón to pinpoint the word he was looking for, but when he did it seemed to perfectly describe what he was feeling during his return to the starting lineup Saturday.
“I’ve been saying this all along – we have unbelievable fans,” said Mondragón, who was sidelined for seven straight games with a broken finger, replaced in net by rookie Zac MacMath during that stretch. “It makes us feel really at home. I have only words of gratitude to the fans. Hopefully we can still give them some more happiness.”
Mondragón first felt goosebumps moments before Saturday’s kickoff between the Union and Toronto FC when he noticed an enormous banner with his name on it in the River End section of PPL Park.
Making his first start since Sept. 3, Philadelphia’s 40-year-old captain then helped the Union to a 1-1 draw – and, more importantly, a berth in the MLS Cup playoffs.
And after the game, Mondragón addressed the appreciative crowd before handing the microphone to his five-year-old son, Paulo, who delighted the fans by singing the “DOOP” song, which the club plays over the loudspeaker after Union goals and has become the franchise’s anthem.
“He’s been surprising me every day with this,” Mondragón said of his son. “It’s one of the things that makes me want to continue playing for many years – because he really enjoys it and is a great fan of the Union. I am very happy he could express that to all of the fans.”
Emotions and fanfare aside, Saturday’s game was also important to ease Mondragón back into the starting role before the playoffs begin. The Colombian veteran didn’t face too much pressure from Toronto FC, stopping two harmless shots and letting in a goal from Ryan Johnson, but looked comfortable patrolling the net and leading the team from the back.
“I think he needed this game,” Union manager Peter Nowak said. “It’s not easy switching gears. He needs a game to be familiar with the backline, and I think it was a good game for him. Zac did a great job the past seven games but I think it was important to bring Faryd back.”
MacMath certainly proved a lot in his seven games in net, going unbeaten in that span and helping the Union rise to the top of the Eastern Conference. But Mondragón has also enjoyed an excellent first season in MLS, earning the club’s only All-Star berth and providing the kind of leadership that helped trigger the major turnaround from last year to this one.
When asked about the Union’s quality and depth in net, Mondragón made sure to credit the club’s goalkeeper coordinator, Rob Vartughian.
“Everyone is talking about Mondragón and Zac as being very good but no one gives credit to our coach, Rob Vartughian,” Mondragón said. “We couldn’t have done this and stay in this shape at this level without good coaching and confidence from Peter and the entire coaching staff. I have lots of thankful words for Rob.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.