NEW YORK — In the world of professional soccer, top-notch players will often meet either as either teammates or opponents. When two individuals meet as the latter, it’s nearly unavoidable that one of them will walk away with a joyous victory, while the other slumps away in disappointment.
For Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Faryd Mondragón, who’s part of the MLS All-Star team that will face Manchester United on Wednesday, he’ll line up with a man that has caused him and the Colombian fans a great deal of pain in the past: England's David Beckham.
Back in 1998, when Colombia last played in the World Cup, Mondragón was coming in as the starting goalkeeper for the national team while Beckham featured for England. The teams met in the final game of the group stage on June 26 in Lens, France.
Colombia needed nothing short of a big win, but it was England’s No. 7 who punctuated the end of los Cafeteros’ World Cup hopes with one of his signature free kicks. Thirty minutes in and lined up from about 35 yards out, Beckham aimed, curled the ball over the wall and just out of the reach of an outstretched Mondragón. The goal made it 2-0 for England and shut the door on Colombia.
“[Beckham and I] talked before the game in Los Angeles [between the Union and the Galaxy],” said Mondragón, who, since his arrival in MLS this season, has formed a good friendship with Beckham. “The goal he scored on me was his first with England in a World Cup. We’ve stayed in touch and it’s a good friendship, more so now that he’s Juan Pablo Ángel’s teammate.
“It’s always nice to get along with players like [Beckham], who undoubtedly is an icon of soccer around the world.”
Although that match between Colombia and England — and that goal between Mondragón and Beckham — lives on in the history of soccer, both players will push it aside and try to create some history together when they take on Man. United on Wednesday (8:30 pm ET, ESPN2, TeleFutura).
The Red Devils — Beckham’s former team — are undefeated in their US tour this year, having beaten New England and Chicago in World Football Challenge play, and Seattle in an international friendly.
“I’m happy to be here,” said Mondragón. “To be named to the All-Star team is an honor. It’s very important in my list of accomplishments. It’ll be a great game. … It’ll be a blast and we’re going to enjoy it.”
At 40 years old, Mondragón has practically accomplished everything a soccer player would want to — he has played for his national team in a World Cup and he’s played professionally in different parts of Europe — yet he still can’t hide his excitement at the prospect of having played consecutive matches against Real Madrid (in a friendly with the Union) and now Manchester United, two undisputed giants of soccer.
“It obviously generates excitement,” he said. “To face, in less than a week, two teams like Real Madrid and Manchester is a privilege. I’m happy and I’m proud to represent Colombia and represent my team, the Philadelphia Union.”
He feels the same about lining up with the likes of Beckham, Thierry Henry and the rest of the contingent of players selected to the MLS All-Star roster, all of whom he hopes to form lasting bonds with.
“There’s David, there’s Titi [Henry], there’s [Jámison] Olave, who’s Colombian, and [Juan] Agudelo, who’s Colombian [by birth],” Mondragón said. “I think the world of soccer is just that: friendships.”