Mondragon leaves Union for Deportivo Cali

(Published in The Philly Soccer Page on Jan. 30, 2012.)

Philadelphia Union and Faryd Mondragon confirmed Monday that the veteran goalkeeper will leave to sign with Colombian club Deportivo Cali.

Mondragon, 40, will return to his hometown to play for the team he made his professional debut for more than 20 years ago.

“For family reasons, I have requested the club to allow me the opportunity to finish my career where it started,” Mondragon said in a statement released Monday afternoon by the Union.

Mondragon and the Union did not elaborate on the family reasons, but the Union made clear they did not want to stand in his way.

“We understand that family is important above all else and we decided that it was of the utmost importance to grant him his request of finishing his career with his childhood club,” Union manager Peter Nowak said in the Union statement.

The joint announcement follows a sudden flurry of news reports that emerged out of Colombia — but seemingly out of nowhere — over the weekend. Until then, there had been little hint in the U.S. that Mondragon might leave the club. As recently as Sunday afternoon, a Union official told PSP there had been no discussion of Mondragon leaving the Union. But then Nuevo Estadio, a Colombian publication, quoted Mondragon discussing the move Sunday night, and around 10 p.m. that night, the Union informed local media they were closing Monday’s practice to the media after initially planning to have it open.

Mondragon’s departure leaves second-year man Zac MacMath as the only goalkeeper on the roster, and the 20-year-old is expected to miss time this summer if he makes the U.S. Olympic team. The Union have not yet identified any trialists under consideration in training camp, so it’s unclear yet who prospective replacements for Mondragon may be.

Mondragon played one season for the Union after a career that included stints in Colombia, Argentina, Turkey and Germany and 50 caps for the Colombian national team. He was the highest paid goalkeeper in Major League Soccer last year, and while he helped transform the Union from one of the league’s worst defenses to one of its best, he still produced the league’s worst save rate among goalkeepers appearing in at least eight games. After he missed time with an injury in September, MacMath replaced him and went unbeaten in seven starts.

Still, Mondragon’s impact upon the club was clear, and he became a fan favorite for his active play in the box and his connection with fans. Nowak named him team captain before the first match, and he wore the captain’s armband in every game he played.

“I am extremely thankful with our fans, especially Sons of Ben, the best fans in MLS, our ownership, technical staff, my teammates and everyone in the city of Philadelphia who always made me feel at home and made the 2011 season one I will never forget,” Mondragon said. “I look forward to coming back to PPL Park as an avid fan and part of the Union family. I wish the club continued success.”