Philadelphia Union name Rais Mbolhi starting goalkeeper, citing "roller coaster" risks of young GKs

MacMath saves in PHIvHOU

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CHESTER, Pa. – Shortly after introducing Rais Mbolhi to the media on Wednesday, Philadelphia Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz discussed how the move would “bolster our goalkeeping corps,” noting how the new acquisition could help the growth of young 'keepers Zac MacMath and Andre Blake.

“I’m personally very excited,” Sakiewicz said, “because now we have three of the best goalkeepers in Major League Soccer, in my opinion.”

Of course, the problem for the Union is that they can only play one at a time. With Mbolhi set to take over starting duties – probably for next week’s home game against Montreal, interim manager Jim Curtin indicated – that means MacMath will lose his job after starting all but two games since the start of the 2012 season.

“I had a good talk with Zac,” Curtin said. “It’s a hard discussion, but Zac is a professional. He’s a young goalkeeper. He’s still only [22] years old. People forget that. He’s played a lot of games, but we felt as a staff and as a club that Zac and Andre can both learn from a player like Rais. He’s a world-class goalkeeper that can help two younger goalkeepers, so it was a no-brainer for us. It puts us in position now to make a run at the playoffs.”

Some have speculated that MacMath might be traded – perhaps to Orlando City, which is near his hometown of St. Petersburg, Florida – and that Blake could eventually be sold overseas. But when asked if any moves were in the works, Curtin said, “that stuff stays behind closed doors,” before adding that the team will explore options to get the two young goalkeepers experience in the meantime.

“We have an affiliate in Harrisburg, there’s a lot of NASL teams, there’s in-league loans – there’s 50 different ways you can get young goalkeepers games,” Curtin said. “If you look in Europe and the rest of the world, where do 22- and 23-year-old kids get handed the keys to clubs? It doesn’t happen. Anywhere. Does it happen in MLS? Occasionally, but it can be a roller coaster with the younger guys.”

That attitude stands in contrast to the Union's history of drafting MacMath in the first round of the 2011 SuperDraft and starting him for the last two-and-a-half seasons, then trading up to select Blake with the first overall pick in this year’s draft. But even if their intention was always to find a veteran goalkeeper (the team has also employed Faryd Mondragón and Oka Nikolov), the Union insist those were the best picks to make at the time.

“Andre was by far the absolute uncontestable No. 1 draft pick and the best player certainly in the combine and the best player coming out of college,” Sakiewicz said. “We’re in the business of collecting very good players, and that’s what we did.”

“We acquired assets,” Curtin added. “Those are good assets. Andre Blake was the consensus best player there. We still believe he has a tremendous future with this club.”

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