PHILADELPHIA – It makes sense that 39-year-old goalkeeper Faryd Mondragón will tutor 19-year goalkeeper Zac MacMath now that the two are teammates on the Philadelphia Union.
But will MacMath also help Mondragón?
“He has to learn from me, but I will learn a lot from him also,” Mondragón told MLSsoccer.com. “Goalkeepers, we are different. We train different. We have different jerseys. We can use our hands. Everything surrounding a goalkeeper is different. I hope – I don’t hope, I’m sure – that we will make a great goalkeeping team.”
The Union’s two new goalkeepers are certainly on opposite sides of the spectrum when it comes to experience. For 20 years, Mondragón has played in some of the world’s most recognized leagues, while earning more than 50 caps for the Colombian national team.
MacMath, meanwhile, is about to embark on his first professional season after being drafted in the first round out of Maryland.
But with Brad Knighton being abruptly waived by the club Tuesday – and with last year’s starter Chris Seitz now in FC Dallas – the veteran and the rookie are the only two 'keepers on the Union roster. How they work together will be vital to the team’s success not only this season but in future years, when MacMath likely takes the torch from Mondragón.
“Any time you get an opportunity to add somebody like Faryd, with his experience and pedigree, that’s a major coup,” said the Union’s goalkeeping coordinator, Rob Vartughian. “He will be invaluable in the locker room and invaluable to Zac MacMath, who we are considering the next rising talent. To have Faryd as his mentor and to have Zac grow and be in an environment where he’s learning from one of the best keepers in the world, for us it’s a very good situation.”
The tricky balancing act now will be how to keep MacMath fresh as he prepares for his backup role. One of the problems Seitz faced last season was trying to shake off the rust after sitting on the bench for three years in Real Salt Lake.
Knighton, too, played sparingly before coming to Philadelphia – and though he did well during the final stretch of the 2010 season, he was deemed expendable with the additions of MacMath and Mondragón.
“For Chris, the hard part was for three years, he played maybe six or seven games,” Vartughian said. “Any goalkeeper needs to play games. That’s the best teacher. With Zac, our goal with him will be to find him games, whether that’s through the reserve league – which is now back and will be crucial for his development – or putting him in a training environment.”
But the best training tool of all, it seems, will be keenly watching everything Mondragón does on and off the field.
“The last thing we want to do is rush a kid and throw him in an environment that he is not ready for,” Vartughian said. “For us, having Faryd to help bring him along is crucial.”
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