In many ways, the Philadelphia Union’s 2011 season opener looked a lot like games from the club’s inaugural 2010 season.
Specifically, the Union were back on their heels at times against a team pressing hard for a win in front of its home fans.
But instead of breaking down – like it did in so many road games last season – Philly held strong for a 1-0 shutout victory over the host Dynamo on Saturday night at Robertson Stadium.
WATCH: Full match highlights
The main reason for the difference: new goalkeeper – and new captain – Faryd Mondragón.
The 39-year-old Colombian didn’t make any spectacular saves but he didn’t need to. Instead, he provided a calming presence in net, controlled the back line with a vocal presence the team has never before had — and, most importantly, he made sure no soft goals trickled through.
“We all saw the great man,” Union manager Peter Nowak said in a postgame interview with 6abc. “There were a couple of situations where he really calmed down the team. … It’s great to have that confidence in your goalkeeper. That’s why he’s our captain.”
The club’s captain from a year ago, Danny Califf, had a big game as well, netting the contest’s only goal – on a rebound in the fifth minute – while patrolling the center of the defense along with new acquisition Carlos Valdés.
Fullbacks Jordan Harvey and Sheanon Williams were steady, as were heady central midfielders Brian Carroll and Stefani Miglioranzi as the Union defense bended but never broke.
Philly withstood 14 shots and eight corner kicks from Houston in earning only the third road win in franchise history. The best Dynamo chance came in the 68th minute when Dominic Oduro sent a short-range shot over the crossbar.
“They were very steady,” Mondragón told 6abc immediately after the final whistle. “I don’t think I had a lot of work to do. The team was really disciplined.”
Disciplined was a word Nowak also used – probably because he mostly used it last season in describing what his team was not. As every Union fan can attest, the 2010 campaign was a frustrating one filled with untimely errors, poor penalties and plenty of missed opportunities.
But this is a new Union team, led by a new captain who’s ready to forge a new direction, slowly but surely.
“This is only a very, very small step," Mondragón said.