Union introduces goalkeeping star

New goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon (left) is joined by another new Union player, defender Carlos Valdes.
New goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon (left) is joined by another new Union player, defender Carlos Valdes.
Posted: January 21, 2011

The Union clearly is not in the business of dwelling on the past, but a nagging question remained: Why not Kevin Hartman?

Hartman, 36, who was left available by Kansas City in the 2009 Major League Soccer expansion draft, was bypassed by the Union, which had the first pick. His rights eventually were traded to FC Dallas, and the four-time MLS All-Star went on to have one of greatest campaigns of any goalkeeper in 2010, with a league-best 0.62 goals-against average. He recorded nine shutouts in 20 games.

Meanwhile, the Union conducted the Chris Seitz Project, before painfully realizing that younger is not always better, especially when you aspire to make a big impact in your first season. Seitz, 23, has since joined Dallas in a deal with Seattle, which acquired him the re-entry draft in December.

The Union appears to have learned its lesson, announcing yesterday at Fado Irish Pub the signing of Colombian international goalkeeping stalwart Faryd Mondragon, along with his fellow countryman, defender Carlos Valdes. Mondragon, 39, is not a household name to weekend soccer fans, but aficionados know the 6-3 goalkeeper boasts an impressive resumé, with some of the world's top clubs in Spain, France, Turkey and Germany.

He's the presence who should be in the back for a growing club. He's the choice that should have been made in the first place.

Union technical staff and officials remain mum - and it will be quite some time before we know - about how much Mondragon will be paid for his services, but it's an educated guess that, with all that it took to bring him here, he definitely is worth more than the meager $80,000 base salary Hartman earned to be MLS' best goalkeeper last season.

"To be honest, I take a lot of the blame for what happened last year," said Union CEO and operating partner Nick Sakiewicz, a former professional goalkeeper who most notably played for the Tampa Bay Rowdies, of the North American Soccer League (1989-90). "I remember seeing Kevin on the table and I thought we should've taken him. I mean, how were we to know that he would have the season he had, but I knew of his pedigree, and you kick yourself for not taking advantage. But that's all in the past now, and today we are here to celebrate our future."

With Mondragon, the future looks bright. Now, the Union has the tenured 'keeper who can mentor Brad Knighton and rookie newcomer Zac MacMath, who was drafted by the Union with the No. 5 overall pick in the draft last week. Now, the team has that intimidating presence in the back who knows what to do and how to do it effectively. And now, it has a player who should allow goalkeeper coach Rob Vartughian to get a better night's sleep.

"You look at his size and his pedigree, and he's only going to help our team. I am excited to work with him," Vartughian said. "Every season defines itself, and I think we are excited for this upcoming one. At the end of the day, there is nothing more vital to us than the experience [Mondragon] has had and how it adds such a new and exciting dimension to our team."

Mondragon has a sidekick along the back line in Valdes, 25, who brings immense talent and leadership qualities of his own. Valdes was captain of the Colombian first-division club Independiente Santa Fe, and is expected to challenge current Union captain Danny Califf for his position. Valdes and Mondragon have a history, both earning caps on the national team, and the two know each other very well.

"It's nice to play with people from your country, but it's even nicer when you play with a unit that develops a good dynamic in the locker room and you all become family," Mondragon said. "I did my homework and I know a lot [about] these fans. They expect the best. I think this season will be the football everyone expected to see from the Union."

The one thing the Union does agree with now - as does the rest of the soccer world - is that, like fine wine and artisan cheeses, goalkeepers appear to get better with age. *

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