Delays for Rais Mbolhi means Philadelphia Union may turn back to Zac MacMath in goal

CHESTER, Pa. – The goalkeeping situation continues to get more and more interesting for the Philadelphia Union.

A week after Zac MacMath stopped two penalty kicks in the shootout of Philly’s US Open Cup semifinal win over FC Dallas and rookie Andre Blake had an eventful MLS debut in Houston three days later, the Union are prepared to welcome new signing Rais Mbolhi into the fold.

Well, almost.

According to Union interim manager Jim Curtin, Mbolhi will likely be held out of Sunday’s game against the San Jose Earthquakes at PPL Park (8 pm ET, Univision Deportes) in favor of MacMath as complications persist surrounding when the Algerian World Cup star makes his MLS debut.

“He’s a guy that says he needs to be 100 percent mentally ready to go before he debuts,” Curtin said. “Debuts are special. Goalkeeping is a unique position in that you cannot be involved mentally for 89 minutes but then you’re called upon to make one save. So he wants to be 100 percent sharp. I totally get that.”

It’s probably hard for Mbolhi to be at 100 percent this week considering some of the things he’s been through. For starters, he only recently got his visa situation resolved, with Curtin saying the process hit a snag because of an “international glitch” with the US government.

“When Rais was signed and we introduced him [three weeks ago], we thought everything was taken care of,” Curtin said. “Something went wrong and now we’ve had to deal with the repercussions of that. It’s not a Union issue; it’s a United States of America issue.”

And then, just when Mbolhi had his “passport in hand and everything taken care of,” the Algerian goalkeeper got into a minor car accident on his way to the Paris airport, delaying his arrival back to Philly until  Wednesday afternoon and forcing the goalie to miss two key training sessions. But Curtin stressed Mbolhi wasn’t injured in the accident and that he’ll still be the starting goalkeeper whenever he’s acclimated to his new team, even as the season winds down.

In the meantime, the Union manager remains confident in MacMath, even though he decided to bench him Friday for the first time this season.

“Of course Zac wanted to play,” Curtin explained. “He’s a competitor. It’s the only time of the year where I thought I could get Andre a game. I saw a window and he’s deserved a game to be honest.”

Curtin was pleased with Blake’s debut and the experience the rookie gleaned from playing in a tough road environment, but the manager is now ready to hand the keys back to MacMath – that is, at least, until Mbolhi is finally ready to go.

How has MacMath dealt with so much unpredictability surrounding the Union’s goalkeeper position?

“It’s kind of become a certainty of uncertainty, so I’ve kind of gotten used to not knowing what’s going to happen each week,” said MacMath, who admitted he was a little bit disappointed when he learned he wasn't in the starting lineup Friday. “But I’m preparing the same as I would if I was going to be the starter each and every week."

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at djzeitlin@gmail.com.