Philadelphia Union starting goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon is starting his first ever MLS playoff game, but it isn't the first high pressure, playoff level game of his career. After playing for nearly a decade in Europe with teams like Galatasary and FC Koln, Mondragon understands what pressure filled games entail.
While in Germany, Mondragon spent time with FC Koln and helped them to advance from 2. Bundesliga to the Bundesliga in his first season. The path to the top league meant that every game meant something for the club.
"There are only 18 teams in each division instead of 20 like some other leagues," Phil Quinn, of SB Nation Soccer told SBN Philly. "So, it makes it more interesting. I want to say Mondragon started... 99% of his games at Koln? Close to it. And pretty much every game for them was a big game. Their goal was always basically "Survive. Try to finish midtable."
"When Mondragon joined Koln they were in the second division. He came in and won the starting job after serious competition with Steffan Wessels who was the establish starter for three season. They finished third in the league that year and were promoted. This was the last season they did automatic promotion."
"Since the 08-09 season, the top two finishers in the 2.Bundesliga are automatically promoted and the bottom two Bundesliga teams are relegated. The third place 2.Bundesliga team faces the team that finishes 16th in the Bundesliga in a home/away playoff."
The former Colombian international went on to play against some of the biggest teams in the world, and in his first two seasons in the Bundesliga faired quite well against them.
"In his first year they had these positives: Bremen 1-0, Schalke 1-0, Dortmund 1-1, at Bayern 2-1, at Hamburg 1-0, at Stuttgart 3-1. In his second year: Bayern 1-1, Hamburg 3-3, 0-0 Bremen, at Leverkusen 0-0, at Bayern 0-0, at Stuttgart 2-0," Quinn said.
"He was basically solid at most times, spectacular at the best of times. I'd say, normally a good shot stopper and usually has an excellent command of his backline."
High praise has been said of Mondragon for helping to rebuild a back five that was much maligned last year, as the Union dropped numerous points due to shoddy defensive play and poor goalkeeping. The 40-year-old's ability to take his experience from Europe and apply it to the Union puts him among only a few in MLS. Kasey Keller and Frank Rost also spent plenty of time in Europe, and Quinn sees the three as the top goalkeepers for playoff games.
"I think we'd all agree that Keller is near the top just due to the sheer amount of experience he has. I think you could easily make the argument for Mondragon, Rost, or Nielsen for #2," said Quinn. "You know... I'd say Keller/Mondragon are 1a and 1b, and Rost is 1c. I'd say of the three, Keller is in the best situation just because he's played several seasons with basically the same defense. Then Mondragon and then Rost."
"Rost played 147 games for Werder Bremen. 130 for Schalke. and 149 for Hamburg. Keller at 176 for Millwall, 99 for Leicester City, 51 for Rayo, 85 for Spurs, 78 for Gladbach. Mondragon 103 for Independiente, 185 for Gala, 106 for Koln. As long as those guys have a serviceable defense in front of them, they'll be fine."
Quinn went on to predict a little bit about how Mondragon will fair against Houston, a match up in which he feels Mondragon has the advantage.
"I think Houston's best chance of scoring against Philly is through Brad Davis, but I think Mondragon (in addition to Carlos Valdes/Danny Califf) gives Philly the advantage. He commands his box well. He's tall. He performs well on crosses into the box. I'd be shocked if Houston scored."