Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath enjoying the best stretch of his young career
CHESTER, Pa. – Zac MacMath is finally playing like the player he thinks he is.
Heading into Sunday’s game against the New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium (7:30 pm ET, watch on MLS Live), the Philadelphia Union goalkeeper has earned four shutouts in his last five contests, making 19 total saves during that stretch.
MacMath is currently tied for the league lead in clean sheets with nine.
“It reconfirms that I can be one of the best goalkeepers in this league,” MacMath said. “I’ve always thought that but I haven’t really proven it. I’m just trying to prove it not just to myself but to my teammates and the coaching staff.”
No one will deny that MacMath has had somewhat of a rocky tenure since taking over as the Union’s starting goalkeeper at the start of the 2012 season. And MacMath has often been one of his own toughest critics during that time.
But his coaches and teammates always stood by him through the struggles, and they now seem to be reaping the benefits of the 22-year-old’s rapid growth.
Have these past five games been the best stretch of MacMath’s professional career?
“That I can remember, yeah,” the third-year goalkeeper said. “Obviously the first season  when I played in eight straight games, I felt like I was in really good form then. But right now, I feel really good and really confident going into the rest of the season.”
Much of MacMath’s rise has seemed to coincide with the summer transfer-window signing of Bundesliga veteran Oka Nikolov a couple of months ago.
At the time, Hackworth said that the 39-year-old Nikolov would mentor MacMath while also pushing him in training for the starting spot. But so far, he’s only done one of those two things, as MacMath’s place in the lineup looks more secure than ever.
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“Oka has been great since he’s got here,” MacMath said. “He’s great on the field and off the field as a leader and someone I can go to if I need to. It’s nice having an experienced goalkeeper to train with every day.”
Shortly before Nikolov arrived in Philly, the Union allowed five goals in a loss to Montreal on May 25, which came 10 days after they gave up four goals to the LA Galaxy.
For MacMath, that proved to be just the wakeup call that was needed. Now, it seems like a distant memory.
“That night, a lot of us looked at each other and we were like, ‘Wow, we need to get ourselves together,’” MacMath said. “After that period, I think we really buckled down.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.