PHILADELPHIA -- One was a grand gesture, while the other was something more subtle, for sure.

I think these were the two most telling moments Thursday afternoon during the Philadelphia Union's media/fan event at Fado Irish Pub here.

When Union manager Peter Nowak finally made his way to the side of the podium before the meet-and-greet started just after lunch time, he exchanged a healthy embrace with Faryd Mondragon.

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The towering Colombian is Nowak's new goalkeeper, and anyone could see their respect and affection for each other was mutual.

Good thing, too. As Nowak later admitted once the proceedings started, his 2010 Union side "gave up too many goals."

It could even be argued that the inconsistent form of goalkeeper Chris Seitz (now with FC Dallas) and the red-card foibles of club captain Danny Califf in central defense cost the Union a playoff spot.

But let's talk about the other seminal moment on Thursday.

Sure, the 300 or so fans who gathered to sing and shout at Fado were made up of the usual faces from the team's Sons of Ben supporters group, but there were also a few first-timers there, too.

One of those was Dennyse James, a 31-year-old from Mantua, N.J. who works as a waitress. She was experiencing the manic tempo of a Union fan sing-along in the company of her friend Ryan McLaughlin, a 23-year-old Rutgers-Camden student from Barrington, N.J.

In talking to James, you could tell she was hooked ... seduced by the same raucous spirit surrounding this team that's drawn in the 39-year-old Mondragon like a magnet from German Bundesliga side FC Cologne.

And as the Union enter their second season, they need that vitality on the field and in the stands in order to push on and make both their sporting and cultural mark.

Colombian defender Carlos Valdes, a 25-year-old from the club Independiente Santa Fe, also "signed" with the Union on Thursday (pending all the official paperwork), but most of the buzz was about Mondragon, who speaks English with impeccable ease.

The guy has presence ... there's no doubt about that. He also has some history in the United States. He was a member of the Colombian National Team that played in the 1994 FIFA World Cup here.

He also played at PPL Park, the Union's home stadium in Chester, Pa., back in October when Colombia tied the U.S. 0-0 in a friendly.

But I was most impressed with Mondragon's razor-sharp wit. He said he's "done his homework" when it comes to Philadelphia fans, which drew a huge laugh from the media and fans gathered on Thursday.

But when I got to interview him one-on-one, he answered the ultimate Philly question with real aplomb.

I asked him, "Do you like your chessesteaks 'wit' or 'wit-out'?"

With a knowing smile of recognition, the gracious Mondragon played along with my idiocy.

"I like both," he said, diplomatically. "I already have places I can go to taste the original Philly steak sandwich."

There's no doubt the guy's happy to be here, and he brings a tremendous amount of pedigree and nuanced knowledge of the game with him. Mondragon's especially impressed with the growth of the game in the U.S.

"(Soccer) has been growing at an unbelievable speed here," he said. "Everyone nowadays wants to come to this league. It's an honor and a privilege to be here."

And while Mondragon has a solid grounding as h embarks on his MLS adventure, fans like Dennyse James might be more in the mode of dipping their toes into the water.

But the league and the Union need both kinds of commitment to make a mark on the Philly/South Jersey/Delaware scene. On Thursday's evidence, everything seems to be coming together in a big way. 




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