Philadelphia Union's Zac MacMath receives plaudits in shutout win over Chicago Fire

With the Philadelphia Union hitting the road without two of their starting defenders, it was clear they would need a big effort from goalkeeper Zac MacMath.

They may have gotten the best game of his young career.

On Saturday in Chicago, MacMath made a season-high six saves to lead the Union to a 1-0 victory over the Fire. It was the second most saves the second-year starter has ever made in MLS – and the most in a winning effort.

“Zac was the Man of the Match, for sure,” Union manager John Hackworth said. “He made a couple of huge saves to keep us in the game. Otherwise, we really would have been in a bad spot.”

The Fire were certainly the better offensive team Saturday, putting up 15 shots, including six on goal. But while the Union scored on one of the two shots they put on frame, the Fire weren’t able to find the back of the net – which was mainly due to MacMath standing on his head at times.

In the 33rd minute, the 21-year-old goalie somehow got his foot on a rebound blast from Daniel Paladini from the edge of the six-yard box. Four minutes after that, he made a diving stop on Joel Lindpere. And after thwarting a breakaway by Patrick Nyarko midway through the second half, MacMath completed his huge afternoon by blocking a Quincy Amarikwa rocket right before the final whistle blew.

“Every game you go into the game knowing you’re going to have to make a couple of saves to keep the team in it,” MacMath said. “Especially on the road, you want to keep the shutout and you hope your team can find an opportunity to get a goal. Jack [McInerney] did that today.”

Perhaps the most impressive part of the shutout – Philly’s first since March 16 – was that the Union did it with new starters Bakary Soumare and Gabriel Farfan filling in for the injured Jeff Parke and suspended Sheanon Williams.

The revamped backline was back on its heels at times but got a lot of help from MacMath, who seemed to be playing with more confidence than he has at any other point this season. MacMath, in turn, thought the newcomers did well – especially Soumare, who made his season debut after requesting a trade early in the year.

“It’s really not too different,” MacMath said of playing behind two new defensive starters. “Obviously, Baky is a big guy and he likes to win balls in the air and he did a really good job saving some balls and getting in the way. I think his veteran experience helped us today, winning balls and communicating to the backline.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at djzeitlin@gmail.com.