Former U.S. Soccer Development Academy goalkeeper Zac MacMath is enjoying a successful stretch in recent weeks with Major League Soccer’s Philadelphia Union.
The team’s second-year goalkeeper, who was part of the U.S. U-17 Residency Program at IMG Soccer Academy and also played club ball with Academy member Clearwater Chargers, is in the midst of a 242-minute shutout streak as his side travels to Chivas USA this Saturday at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.
MacMath was thrust into the Union starting role during the latter half of his 2011 MLS rookie season, and he exudes confidence in the defensive third. Goalkeeping has been MacMath’s path to prominence within his budding soccer career, but at one point he also used to play center back during his time with Clearwater.
“I loved playing center back,” MacMath said. “That is a huge reason why I can read the game well as a goalkeeper, because I can see what the defenders see. I liked being able to run around, challenge corner kicks. But now I’m restricted to goalkeeper.”
The 20-year-old certainly has excelled in that role, especially during the Union’s current stretch that has included a scoreless draw against the Vancouver Whitecaps and most recently a 1-0 win against fellow Eastern Conference foe Columbus Crew. The shutout victory against Columbus, in particular, stood out because the team was without Danny Califf due to a hamstring injury.
“The team really tried to regroup after the first three games, particularly with our defending and giving up as few chances as possible,” MacMath said. “In our last couple of games, unfortunately we only got four points when I think we could have had six. But we’re playing really well and coming together.”
The U.S. Soccer youth system was MacMath’s home away from home when he was part of the U-17 Residency Program at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. MacMath is from St. Petersburg, Fla., located on the northern side of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge that connects his hometown and Bradenton.
“It was great,” MacMath said. “Being invited to Bradenton was an amazing experience for me. It was a bonus to be close to the family so they could come to most of my games. From a development standpoint, Coach John Hackworth did a lot for me and my game.”
Transitioning from Maryland to MLS, MacMath was brought into an environment that included a bunch of coach-player connections from his younger playing days. Hackworth moved to the Union coaching staff, Philadelphia head coach Peter Nowak had previously brought in MacMath for a U.S. U-23 National Team trip to China, and Union assistant coach/goalkeeper coordinator Rob Vartughian coached MacMath at Maryland.
It was not set in stone where MacMath would be headed, but the Union came through in taking him with the fifth overall selection in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft.
“I didn’t have too much of an idea where I was going,” MacMath said. “Before the draft I was mostly told that I would be in Vancouver or Seattle, but then right before [I was selected] there were rumors of Philadelphia taking me at No. 5. Knowing Coach Rob, John and Peter, that has just been a big benefit to me. Their practicing habits and their personalities, they have been really helpful.”
MacMath made his MLS debut last year, replacing injured Colombian goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon during a Sept. 3 match against Real Salt Lake. MacMath would go on to post a 3-0-4 record during his rookie campaign.
Mondragon then decided in January that he would like to return to Colombia to play in his country’s first division with Deportivo Cali. Once again the door opened for MacMath to take the top spot.
“When I decided to join MLS, I had the full intention to be a starting goalkeeper,” MacMath said. “Obviously with Faryd last year, you had a veteran goalkeeper who did really well. Unfortunately he got injured, but for my sake I got some good games in.
“This year I feel a lot more comfortable after training with the first team in the preseason, unlike last year,” MacMath said. “I feel comfortable as a goalkeeper and I’m building confidence. It’s growing more and more.”
MacMath already has had some memorable experiences on his young MLS resume. He played in portions of the Union’s World Football Challenge matches last year against Real Madrid (26 minutes in a 2-1 loss) and Everton (first half of a 1-0 win against a Tim Howard-less side). And along with MacMath’s unbeaten stint last year, the Union has rebounded well from a sluggish 2012 start.
He represents a young wave of starting goalkeepers within MLS that also includes Development Academy alum and D.C. United starter Bill Hamid and U.S. U-23 and Chicago Fire third-year goalkeeper Sean Johnson.
“The U.S. has always had good goalkeeping coming through,” MacMath said. “It just so happens that guys like me, Sean Johnson and Bill Hamid are all very good young goalkeepers and have had the opportunity at the right time. We’re trusted by the coaches, and I think that’s good for the league and good for the young goalkeepers in the National Team setup.”