CHESTER, Pa. – As soon as the locker room doors opened, reporters swarmed around Zac MacMath, who quietly but gamely answered questions about the deciding goal in Wednesday’s US Open Cup semifinal.
What did the Philadelphia Union goalkeeper see on the Jacob Peterson header that put Sporting Kansas City ahead by a goal in the 65th minute and led to an eventual 2-0 win for the visitors?
“It was a good ball in by [Graham] Zusi and the guy got a good flick on it near post,” he said.
Did he pull up because he thought it might be going out of bounds?
“I just didn’t get to it unfortunately,” he responded succinctly.
One thing was clear: MacMath took his share of blame for the devastating loss that knocked the Union out of the tournament, just two wins shy of the franchise’s first-ever trophy.
“Obviously, I know I can save that ball,” MacMath said. “And I should save that ball. I shouldn’t have let it in.”
While MacMath was hard on himself, his teammates and coaches were quick to defend the second-year ’keeper, whose strong play of late has helped the Union partially revive their season.
“He was pretty upset,” Union interim manager John Hackworth said. “I’m sure he felt like he could have gotten to it, and from the side it looked like it was going wide. We have to learn from our experiences. Zac has been fantastic for us all year and he’s a young goalkeeper who will learn from it.”
A veteran of the league, Union midfielder Brian Carroll commended MacMath before saying, “That’s the way it goes sometimes.” And defender Sheanon Williams noted it was a “fluky goal” and that, “as a goalkeeper, you can’t save everything.”
Instead of pointing the finger at anyone, many of the Union players pointed to their own shortcomings, as well as Sporting Kansas City’s tactics that turned Wednesday’s game into a physical affair with many whistles – which, perhaps in the end, benefited a team like SKC that thrives on set pieces.
“It’s a team game,” center back Amobi Okugo said. “It’s the players on the field that allowed the header. If the header doesn’t happen, then he doesn’t even have to make the save, or if the foul doesn’t happen, they don’t get the opportunity for a set piece.
“I don’t want to tell Zac it was his fault because it wasn’t his fault. It was the team’s fault.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.