Chris Konopka's Career Is One Of Irish Ups, American Downs

The Philadelphia Union announced, over Twitter, that along with second year goalkeeper Zac MacMath, the team has former third stringer Chase Harrison and Chris Konopka, a former New York Red Bulls goalkeeper, in their Florida training camp.

Union head coach Piotr Nowak has made it clear that he's both comfortable with heading into the season with Harrison as MacMath's backup and no veteran goalkeeper on the roster.

"Why do I need to bring in a veteran?" Nowak said to reporters during Wednesday's press conference. "I don't think it's necessary right now to think about that."

Nowak went on to answer questions concerning Konopka's future status with the team.

"The situation right now is that he's training with us," Nowak said. "He's a very good guy. We'll see where he is at the end of this camp."

"He's been in Europe, he has a good pedigree in Major League Soccer."

Konopka was one of the MLS pool keepers last season, yet managed to make it into a Red Bulls game last year as a starter, much to the curiosity of New York fans and media.

"It was a bit of a surprise when he actually got a start for the Red Bulls against Chicago," Matt Conroy, who runs The Vipers Nest and is a contributor to Once A Metro, said to the Brotherly Game. "Pool keepers are typically called in when an MLS club has a goalkeeping crisis and needs a backup, but they're rarely thrown to the wolves right off the bat."

"In this case, Bouna Coundoul was away on international duty, Greg Sutton had been loaned to Montreal and Frank Rost was injured, so I think most fans expected to see Alex Horwath, who had started earlier in the season at Columbus, between the pipes."

Conroy went on to describe the type of goalkeeper Konopka is, and his thoughts on the 6-foot, 5-inch goalkeeper draw comparisons to former Union starter Faryd Mondragon in many ways, except in the key categories of experience and consistency.

"Konopka is a monster of a keeper and cuts a pretty imposing figure," Conroy said. "His kicking and distribution was an improvement on Coundoul, but that's not saying much."

When Konopka walked out onto the field as the number one goalkeeper against the Fire, Conroy and others were perplexed at New York head coach Hans Backe's decision.

"It's safe to say that the general reaction to Konopka starting against the Fire was what the #*$%!?" Conroy said. "Hans Backe, genius that he is, must have seen something in Konopka that he thought gave the Red Bulls a better chance to win than Horwath, who had a pretty awful season for the reserve team."

Despite the questionable decision of tossing Konopka straight into an MLS league game, the 26-year-old was not awful, even after giving up two goals in the 2-2 draw.

"How did Konopka do? Not horribly, but he certainly didn't make the case that he was any kind of long-term solution to New York's goalkeeping problem either," said Conroy. "He let in two first half goals, both of which could have been prevented. The first took a deflection off his hand before dribbling into the goal, while he was caught in no man's land and victimized on the second."

"The Red Bulls came back to get a draw, so it wasn't a complete disaster."

While not blaming Konopka fully for the goals, specifically because of the Red Bulls' defensive situation, Conroy did point out flaws he saw in the goalkeeper's professional history.

"Truth be told, it was a difficult situation for him to be thrown into," Conroy said. "The Red Bulls' defending was a mess, so it wouldn't be fair to judge him on the basis of the Chicago game alone. On the other hand, he's a guy who has bounced around MLS for a few years and failed to catch on with any one team, and there must be a reason for it. "

After being drafted by the Kansas City Wizards, now Sporting Kansas City, in 2007, Konopka headed to Ireland as a free agent due to Kansas City's choice to decline his 2008 contract option. Konopka signed with Bohemians FC, but failed to make a league appearance that season, despite being the first American to ever win the Irish double (league championship and FAI Cup).

2009 was a watershed moment for Konopka in terms of first team playing time, managing to start three times in the league for Sporting Fingal and helped the team to a FAI Cup title. Konopka went on to play in 12 league games for Waterford United in 2010, but the club did not win a trophy.

The dual Polish-American citizen returned to the United States with the Columbus Crew on July 26 last year, but only as an MLS Goalkeeper Pool emergency player. He was called up by the Crew a second time on July 30, before joining the Red Bulls on August 13, then a third time with Columbus on September 10.

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