Rapids' MacMath finds top form, even as Howard's arrival looms on horizon

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – It’s been a roller coaster ride for Colorado Rapids goalkeeper Zac MacMath.

Eight weeks ago, the Rapids announced the signing of Tim Howard prior to their game against D.C. United. The move meant the 24-year-old MacMath would have to compete for a job with the US national team legend for a job come summertime.

In the ensuing match, a MacMath blunder led to Fabian Espindola’s equalizer in the 80th minute. Two games later, another late game mistake cost his team points, coming off his line aggressively in a mistake which led to a Joao Plata goal for rivals Real Salt Lake.  

Fast-forward to the present, and MacMath is coming off of back-to-back clean sheets for the first time this season, on a Rapids side which is leading MLS in the standings and ranks second in the league in goals against (8).

“My confidence is pretty high right now,” MacMath told MLSsoccer.com. “I had a dip in confidence after that first Salt Lake game but over the last six games it’s been starting to grow and hopefully that will continue as the season goes on.”

The Rapids ‘keeper cited the match as a turning point in his season.

“I thought I had a really good preseason, but then that game happened and I had to re-evaluate and take a step back,” he continued. “It’s led us to a pretty good spot right now.”

MacMath received advice and support from his coaches following the loss to Salt Lake back in early April.

“We don’t really talk about [the RSL loss] a whole lot,” Rapids goalkeeping coach Chris Sharpe said. “Zac and I sat and watched the film. I just said to him, ‘You’ve got to put it behind you.’ We just told him to be more patient.”

He’s also had help from his back line: MacMath has faced the fewest shots per match started (3.36) of any goalkeeper in MLS this season thus far.

“The guys, in the [six-yard box], have been fantastic this year,” Sharpe said. “We’re second in the league in goals against, so I think the group has been absolutely phenomenal. I think the organization that Zac provides is a big piece of it.”

Sharpe, along with head coach Pablo Mastroeni and the rest of the Rapids coaching staff, have also made efforts to ensure that the impending arrival of Howard doesn’t cast a shadow over the team’s young goalkeeper.

“It’s part of the business,” Sharpe said of the team’s move to sign Howard as a Designated Player back in March. “Those acquisitions are going to happen. I sat and spoke with him and he was well informed with it. We don’t talk about it, to be fair. Tim is not here yet. Zac is our No. 1 and his competition right now is John Berner and Chris Froschauer.”

MacMath does maintain contact with Howard, however, a longtime mentor of his who makes himself available via text messages.

“He just reached out and said ‘Let me know if you ever need anything or to talk about anything’,” MacMath said.

The current Rapids No. 1 remains hungry, confident, and willing to compete with the 37-year-old Howard once the Designated Player arrives in Colorado in July.

“I knew about it beforehand, so it wasn’t as big of a thing when they announced it,” MacMath said. “That’s part of the business of trying to make the team better at all positions. I’m here to push him and make the team as good as possible.”

Just how important has MacMath been to Colorado’s six-game unbeaten run and rise to the top of the Western Conference?

“I think he’s been huge,” said Mastroeni. “I think to this point of the season, he’s done very well in [ball distribution] as well as managing games and coming up with big saves in the last couple of games and keeping clean sheets. Overall, his performances, given the situation with Tim coming in this summer, have been spectacular. It’s the type of performances you need from a player in his position.”