CHESTER, Pa. – As the Philadelphia Union captain, Faryd Mondragón knows he doesn’t have to say much to the rest of the players heading into Thursday’s second-leg Eastern Conference semifinal game against the Dynamo at Houston’s Robertson Stadium (8:30 pm ET, ESPN2/ESPN Deportes).
That’s because he already knows his team will play with the same kind of heart, character and resolve that is has exhibited all season.
“In 22 years as a professional, I think this is one of the two or three best locker rooms I’ve been in my whole career,” Mondragón said. “If we play the way I know we can play, we can beat anyone. And I say this in a very humble way because I know there are a lot very good teams. But I live with this team every day – day by day, training by training, minute by minute – and I know what we are capable of.”
There, are of course, specific adjustments the Union will make. Down one goal in the aggregate and with their season hanging in the balance, Mondragón may have a lot of work cut out for him as the Union prepare to push a lot of numbers forward.
But at this point, the club’s 40-year-old goalkeeper believes winning is more about will than tactics. And he believes the team is up for the challenge.
“I think we have been working for 10 months during the whole season to be at the place we are now,” Mondragón said, "and we want to continue this way until [the MLS Cup on Nov. 20] in L.A. We know what we didn’t do [in the 2-1 opening-leg loss to Houston] and what needs to be done Thursday. I think it’s just a matter of being relaxed and focused.”
As complimentary as he was about the Union’s locker room, Mondragón was similarly appreciative of his first MLS Cup playoff experience.
“I think the crowd, the atmosphere, our fans, made this game pretty much the same as any other final I’ve ever played in,” Mondragón said. “We all feel very, very proud to be in the playoffs, to give the first-ever home playoff game to our fans, who deserve it for all the support they’ve given us throughout the whole season.
“Hopefully it doesn’t stop here.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org