PHILADELPHIA – For a couple of hours on Wednesday, an Irish bar turned into a Colombian one.
In a move that has been whispered about for weeks, the Philadelphia Union unveiled their two newest acquisitions – goalkeeper Faryd Mondragón and defender Carlos Valdés – in front of a swarm of Sons of Ben fans.
Both players are members of the Colombian national team and will likely be immediately inserted into the Union starting lineup.
“This,” Union manager Peter Nowak said at a press conference at Fado Irish Pub, “is the end product of our hard work throughout the offseason.”
And the man largely responsible for helping to bring the two Colombians to Philly is another one of the franchise’s newer acquisitions, Union head of scouting and player development Diego Gutiérrez.
Gutiérrez, who was hired last month by Philly, also hails from Colombia. He said he had long conversations late into the night with Mondragón as he tried to woo him to town, with Valdés in tow.
WATCH: Mondragón Highlights
“Colombian players are a very good value and becoming a commodity in the world,” Gutiérrez told MLSsoccer.com. “They don’t go out in numbers as much as Argentines and Brazilians do, but it will become that way because they’re players that can adapt to pretty much any culture. For the most part, they’re bilingual. They’re a very good value and they fit our league very well.”
Gutiérrez should know how well Colombians fit into MLS. As a longtime player for Chicago and Kansas City, he lived it. And he’s maintained close ties with many of his countrymen since retiring as a player and stepping into his new front office job.
“Diego has been a huge force in building that bridge because of his connections and his ties,” Union coach John Hackworth said. “At the same time, we’re also just looking for quality. Any time you can bring in two internationals who are currently starters on their national team, especially a team like Colombia, you’re doing alright.”
Reiterating Hackworth, Gutiérrez also wanted to make clear that he’s not perceived as a one-trick pony.
“Look, I’d like to think that I bring a little more to the table than just bringing in Colombian players,” he said. “But having known Faryd and having known Carlos was a big factor. At the end of the day, it’s not just about getting Colombian players. Our view of the market is very, very large. As we narrowed down prospects and candidates to bring in, they just happened to be Colombian.”
With the addition of Mondragón and Valdés, the Union now have four Colombians on the roster. Defender Juan Diego González and midfielder Roger Torres are the others. (Torres, who was on loan last season, is expected to return).
In the press conference, Mondragón downplayed the infusion of Colombians on the Union, but Valdés later said how important it is to have veteran countrymen on his side.
Mondragón, 39, has seen it all through a career that has lasted more than 20 years, having played for teams in Argentina, France, Spain, Turkey and Germany.
“[Mondragón] is an idol to me,” said Valdés, who played his club soccer for América de Cali and Independiente Santa Fe. “Not just for me, but for Colombian soccer, he’s an icon. He’s a very important acquisition for us and by having players like Faryd, we’re going to really be able to make history.”