HARRISON, N.J. – Chris Konopka didn’t know until Friday afternoon after training that he would be making his first MLS start for the New York Red Bulls against the Chicago Fire on Saturday night. The local product out of Toms River, N.J., called his start a “dream” as he made his debut in front of friends and family.
Konopka’s inclusion in the Starting XI came as a surprise to many. With goalkeeper and recent designated player signing Frank Rost out for a month with a quadriceps injury, it seemed that Bouna Coundoul would make his tenth start of the season. But Coundoul, who played in Senegal’s midweek match against Morocco, was delayed on his flight and arrived in New Jersey late on Friday night. But before he even touched down, the decision was made to start Konopka.
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Konopka was given the honors ahead of Alex Horwath, who had previously served as the starter in the Red Bulls’ second game of the season, a 0-0 result in Columbus.
“Konopka has been outstanding this week,” Backe said. “He’s looked very sharp. That’s why we have him over Alex Horwath.”
After being taken in the supplemental draft in 2008 by Kansas City, Konopka turned down MLS to spend the next three seasons in Ireland. He returned to MLS this offseason, signing as one of the “pool goalkeepers” who would be called up in case of emergency. Usually the goalkeepers in the league pool temporarily join their new club to serve as the backup behind the team’s No. 3 goalkeeper.
Rost and Coundoul’s injuries forced Konopka to take on the duties of a starter, and he performed decently well in his new role. The keeper made three saves, including a huge stop of Orr Barouch in the second half, and conceded two first half goals to help the Red Bulls get the draw.
“I did OK. I let in two goals,” Konopka said. “It is what it is.”
But for Konopka, a career that took him from the Big East – he played his college soccer at Providence – to Ireland and now to his first career start in MLS, Saturday night is the culmination of his childhood ambitions.
“I grew up watching the MetroStars. I grew up watching Tony Meola, Tim Howard,” Konopka said. “They were the guys that I watched.”