When the Philadelphia Union left for a two-game road trip in Texas, Rais Mbolhi did not join them, with interim manager Jim Curtin revealing last week that the new goalkeeper “had some business to take care of away from the game.”
But when the team returns to Philly following Friday’s nationally televised game against the Houston Dynamo at BBVA Compass Arena (9 pm ET; NBCSN, stream on NBCSports.com, TSN2), Curtin expects Mbolhi to be there and finally begin preparations for his MLS debut.
“Rais will be at our next training session back in Philadelphia, for sure,” Curtin said in a conference call with reporters Thursday.
Mbolhi – who was signed by the Union more than two weeks ago after leading Algeria into the knockout round of this summer’s World Cup – is still poised to become the team’s starting goalkeeper once he’s ready.
But that process is taking longer than Curtin would have liked, with Mbolhi set to miss his fourth straight game while on the Union roster.
“It’s crazy,” said Curtin, adding that part of the holdup is due to visa issues. “But these things happen. With the process of getting a player fully here, there’s a transitional period and that’s just part of it. He’ll be back with us on Monday and we’ll see where he is, where he’s at mentally, and we’ll go from there.”
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Despite the uncertainty surrounding Mbolhi's MLS debut, the Union have had little to complain about regarding their goalkeeping situation. Zac MacMath, the team’s starter since 2012, has thrived in something of a lame-duck role, stopping two penalty kicks in a shootout Tuesday to lift the Union past FC Dallas and into the US Open Cup final.
For Curtin, it was great to see MacMath come up big in such a crucial spot. And the Union manager is confident in his 'keeper heading into Friday’s game – which could very well turn out to be MacMath’s last as a Union starter.
“I said before the [Dallas] game that whether you’re a young player or an old player, you’ll never know when you’ll have an opportunity like this – to play in a semifinal,” Curtin said. “It can happen where five, 10 years go by and you don’t have the opportunity to do it. I told [MacMath] to embrace it, grab a hold of it, and he really did that tonight. He stepped up and came up huge in the PKs.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.