Countdown to First Kick: 20 MacMath gets his chance

As First Kick, presented by Dick's Sporting Goods approaches, MLSsoccer.com is marking each passing day with a different statistic, observation or talking point, setting the stage for the beginning of the 2012 MLS campaign.

20 – Age of Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath

Every year it seems another wide-eyed MLS goalkeeper gets thrown into the fire.

From the super-sized Bill Hamid at D.C. United to Chicago’s draft-day sleeper Sean Johnson or even Tally Hall, the soft-spoken former backup to Pat Onstad who came into his own last season with the Houston Dynamo, the league loves to watch a young talent toe the line and test his mettle.

In fact, was there more stunning moment last season than when LA Galaxy emergency backup Brian Perk got his chance? No big deal, he just managed to hijack the headlines by absolutely stoning Seattle’s Fredy Montero from the penalty spot on July 4 while the Home Depot Center roared out a message: Hey kid, welcome to the show.

The upcoming MLS season is no different than years past, but this time the spotlight will shine the brightest on Zac MacMath. If that name doesn’t ring a bell yet it’s for good reason: Although highly touted out of Maryland as a rookie, he rode the bench for the bulk of 2011, watching Faryd Mondragón do his thing on a regular basis at PPL Park while the Union surged to a first-ever postseason berth.

While MacMath is actually no stranger to the starting lineup – he started seven games in September and October while Mondragón nursed a busted finger – he’s about to get a wake-up call. The Union will likely go only as far as the 20-year-old goalkeeper can take them, a point not lost on Union fans who watched another relative newcomer, Chris Seitz, largely fumble his chance for glory during the club’s frustrating expansion season in 2010.

The difference this time is that MacMath has some reinforcements in front of him in the form of veteran Danny Califf, the quietly sensational Carlos Valdés and rising star Sheanon Williams. Peter Nowak’s group is a vastly different, savvier bunch this time around and they’ve proven they’re game to win the Eastern Conference, but whatever they accomplished last season they did so with an absolute giant in net.

Now, it’s MacMath’s turn to follow in the steps of those who’ve taken the torch in stride. Can he take the heat?

The Philadelphia Union will open their 2011 home slate on March 18 against the Colorado Rapids at PPL Park.  GET TICKETS!

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