It didn’t take long to convince Rais Mbolhi about continuing his career with the Philadelphia Union.
Mbolhi had numerous discussions with the club and ultimately figured out this was the best spot to land.“(CEO & Operating Partner) Nick (Sakiewicz) has a vision for everything, and I have mine as well, and since I met Nick, my decision was already made because he wants to win,” Mbolhi said at a press conference Wednesday at PPL Park. “They have a really nice project, and that’s what I’m looking for.”The Union acquired Mbolhi, an Algerian international and World Cup goalkeeper. The 28-year-old recently guided Algeria out of the knockout round of the 2014 FIFA World Cup for the first time in his country’s history.
Mbolhi recorded an amazing 11 saves in the round of 16 against eventual champion Germany to extend the match into overtime. Even with a 2-1 loss, Mbolhi made his presence known on an international stage and earned Man of the Match honors.
Mbolhi comes to the Union from CSKA Sofia, one of the best clubs in the Bulgarian A Football Group.
“As a coach, you get very excited when you can bring in a player of this caliber,” Union interim manager Jim Curtin said. “A world-class goalkeeper, they don’t grow on trees. They’re difficult to find. It was a World Cup where you saw a lot of exceptional goalkeepers, and he was one of them. People need to understand that he chose Philadelphia as a city over Champions League clubs to come here. He needs to be shown a lot of love for that from our great fan base.”
Mbolhi didn't travel to Friday’s match at Sporting Kansas City and is expected to be named the starter soon, despite the presence of Zac MacMath and highly-touted rookie Andre Blake, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft.
When asked what his biggest strength was, Mbolhi didn’t hesitate.
“Experience,” MBolhi said. “I wouldn’t say that two years ago, but right now I can say experience.”
Mbolhi attended the Union’s 3-3 draw against the Colorado Rapids on July 12. Fast forward 18 days and he’s now an official member of the Union.
“We couldn’t be more excited to welcome this player to our club,” Sakiewicz said. “We have a couple of fantastic young goalkeepers on our roster right now in Zac MacMath and Andre Blake, two terrific, promising guys that are going to be tremendous goalkeepers someday. And we just added an incredible veteran goalkeeper. … It’s really going to bolster our goalkeeper corps. I’m personally very excited because now we have three of the best goalkeepers in Major League Soccer.”
In addition to his recent experience at the ’14 World Cup, Mbolhi also participated in the World Cup in 2010.
That’s a ton of international experience to draw upon as he enters the next phase of his professional career.
“It was a great experience and I also learned a lot about playing at the very highest level,” Mbolhi said. “I think I grew as a man and as a goalkeeper by playing in the two World Cups.”