He was a rookie making his Major League Soccer debut, but Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath wasn’t fazed — not by the screaming Real Salt Lake fans behind him or the streamers they were throwing into his goal box.
“I was just blocking it all out and really just focusing on the game,” said MacMath, who came on at halftime of Philly’s 2-1 loss to RSL at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday. “I’ve been in hostile environments before with the [US] U-20s and the U-17s, so I’m used to that. The confetti didn’t really bother me.”
The Union will certainly need more of that kind of poise from MacMath over the next few weeks as the 20-year-old appears poised to step in for 40-year-old Faryd Mondragón as the club’s starting ’keeper.
Mondragón, the Union’s captain and lone 2011 All-Star, fractured his right ring finger in the first half of Saturday’s game. The ‘keeper will miss approximately four weeks after undergoing a successful operation to repair the bone.
It will be a big loss for the fourth-place Union, especially as the club finds itself in the thick of the playoff race with nine games remaining. They have two crucial home contests this week, starting with Wednesday’s match against the New England Revolution (8 pm ET, Galavisión) and followed by a Saturday evening clash with the Portland Timbers (7:30 pm ET).
“I think there’s a little added pressure because we are in the playoff race and we need some points in the next couple of games,” said MacMath, who didn’t allow a goal against RSL. “But I don’t think it will really affect me or add pressure to me personally.”
Before exiting Saturday’s game at the halftime break, Mondragón was a rock for the Union. He was one of just two Philly players to play every minute, and his vocal leadership was an important factor in the Union’s turnaround after a disappointing expansion campaign.
While the Union coaches did not want to turn the keys over the team to MacMath this early in the 20-year-old’s career, they can take solace in knowing the rookie has absorbed plenty of knowledge from Mondragón.
“Every day we talk about different situations and different things,” said MacMath, who was the fifth overall pick in the 2011 SuperDraft after prospering at the University of Maryland and internationally with the US Under-17 and Under-20 squads. “Most days after the game we look at the video and see the goals the team gave up and go through them and see what he may have done wrong or maybe the defense did wrong, in order to get a better perspective of how to help the team.”
Now, MacMath hopes those learning experiences — coupled with all the big games he played as a youth — will help him take over in net for Philly. And when he does so, he’ll try to do what he did when he played his first MLS game in Salt Lake City: remain calm.
“It was good to get my debut,” MacMath said. “Obviously it’s not the way I wanted to get it with Faryd getting hurt and the team suffering a loss. But it definitely takes some of the nerves away. I think I’ll be a lot more comfortable if I do get the start Wednesday.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.