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A Philadelphia Union blog hosted by Christopher A. Vito and Matthew De George

Friday, May 1, 2015

An unlikely reunion: Konopka in line to start at PPL Park Saturday

There is goalkeeping news surrounding the Philadelphia Union’s meeting with Toronto FC, and for once, it’s not involving the Union.

While there’s a little intrigue in Philly – Jim Curtin said Wednesday that he’s leaning toward John McCarthy as the starter for a fifth straight game as Andre Blake continues his recovery from knee surgery – it’s the visitors to PPL Park that will have a goalie change, which involves a familiar face.

Toronto manager Greg Vanney said this week that if starter Joe Bendik, who is suffering from a plantar fascia strain in his foot, can’t go, Chris Konopka would be the starter.

Well, Bendik is listed as out on MLS’ injury report, and while a post on TFC’s site has him officially questionable, the team’s probable lineup features Konopka in goal.

If Konopka gets the nod, it’ll be his second MLS appearance in his sixth MLS season. The 2007 SuperDraft pick and native of Toms River, N.J., spent three seasons playing for Irish clubs Bohemians, Sporting Fingal and Waterford United.

Konopka’s last MLS appearance came with the Union May 26, 2012, the final MLS match in Peter Nowak’s reign, against … you guessed it, Toronto. That game, a 1-0 loss at BMO Field, was the first win for Toronto after nine straight losses to start a season that featured just five wins, one of the worst in MLS history. The goal was provided by ill-fated designated player Danny Koevermans, who called time on his career after a litany of injuries. It’s worth taking a look at the lineups, which included the unforgettable left-flank pairing of midfielder Kai Herdling and back Gabe Farfan. Who would’ve imagined Nowak was losing the plot?

Konopka also got the nod in the 3-0 win over Rochester Rhinos in the third round of the U.S. Open Cup later that week, a game that featured two goals by Freddy Adu and one by the legendary Josue Martinez. Konopka’s string of appearances was forced by injuries to Zac MacMath and Chase Harrison, who had made his debut May 19 against Dallas. Brian Rowe was listed as the backup to Konopka May 26.

Just after the arrival of Oka Nikolov, Konopka was traded to Toronto in Sept. 2013 for a third-round SuperDraft pick, which became Alex Sweetin for four weeks of training camp. Since leaving, the Union have used four starting goalkeepers – Blake, McCarthy, MacMath and a goalie who played in a little tournament in Brazil – in the last 44 league matches.

It’s been a while since Konopka has gotten game action thanks to the backlog in Toronto. Bendik has established himself as the No. 1 since Julio Cesar’s loan from Queens Park Rangers ended after the World Cup last summer and has always done well against the Union (evidence here, here, here, and here), plus TFC drafted Reading United product Alex Bono out of Syracuse with the No. 6 pick in the 2015 SuperDraft.

That logjam is among the reasons why Konopka’s name seemed a logical candidate for the Union’s third goalkeeper job when Rais M’Bolhi was banished. He fits the archetype – inexpensive, veteran mentor, American, capable of doing the job – that the Union should be looking for.

There’s also the fact that Konopka was in town for the Union’s game April 11 with New York City FC, three days before his 30th birthday and coinciding with a TFC bye week.

Given those ties, it’s possible that this won’t be the last time we see Konopka at PPL Park. At least this one should be one for him to relish.

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