Photo: Paul Rudderow
(UPDATE: Several hours after this post went live, another Colombian report quoted Mondragon as saying he would be moving to Cali. Mondragon could not be reached by PSP for comment. The Union subsequently closed the Monday training session to the media, after it had initially been open.)
Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon remains a Union player.
A Union official confirmed Sunday that Mondragon was in camp with the Union and said the club has not talked with Deportivo Cali, despite Colombian reports that Mondragon could initiate a move to his hometown club, Deportivo Cali.
The Colombian reports renewed questions about Mondragon’s tenure with the club, which first arose in September after he missed several weeks due to injury. Rookie goalkeeper Zac MacMath replaced Mondragon and played well in his absence, going undefeated in seven starts and posting a better save percentage (64 percent) than Mondragon (62.39). Until his injury, Mondragon had been credited as a crucial part of the a defensive turnaround on a team that lacked confidence defensively after giving up the second most goals in the league in 2010, and Mondragon helped change, along with the additions of Carlos Valdes and Sheanon Williams.
A postseason analysis showed Mondragon had the league’s lowest save rate among goalkeepers with at least eight appearances, but at nearly $400,000, he had the highest salary of all MLS goalkeepers. While he still seemed as smart a goalkeeper as any in the league, his shot-stopping proved a question mark at times late in the season.
But does that mean the Union will let him go?
Commentary: The pros and cons of a Mondragon departure
A Mondragon departure could free up a big chunk of salary to finance acquisition of two quality MLS players, or even a designated player.
MacMath was always viewed as the goalkeeper of the future after the Union spent their first round draft pick on him in 2011, but with Mondragon around, few expected that future to be now. After Seitz proved not ready for prime time, the idea was clearly to bring in an experienced veteran to hold the job for maybe two years and mentor MacMath while he prepared for the starting role. His good play thus far doesn’t change the fact that MacMath is just 20 years old at a position where players often peak developmentally in their early 30s.
Even if MacMath proves able to step in as a regular starter this year, the Union would have big holes to fill.
MacMath appears a near-lock for the U.S. Olympic team this summer, meaning the Union will be without him for several games. If Mondragon departs, the Union would need another goalkeeper capable of starting important mid-season matches. While they likely have another goalkeeper or two set for trials in training camp, it’s a long shot that someone competing to be a third-string goalie will be someone the Union want starting several key summer games. Should the Union choose to let Mondragon go this late in the winter transfer period, they may not find a quality backup goalkeeper available until the summer transfer market opens.
Then there’s this simple fact: Mondragon is still a good player and a terrific model for a young goalkeeper like MacMath.
Has Mondragon lost a step? Probably.
But the Union captain has been a good team leader and ambassador on and off the field. Whatever he’s lost in quickness, he appears to largely make up for with smarts and intangibles. Sure, the numbers show one thing, but don’t forget the Union are still just a third-year team establishing a team culture both in the locker room and with their fan base. In that, veterans like Mondragon are key.
Should Mondragon leave, the Union will lose something they may find difficult to replace.