Restored to No. 1, Zac MacMath keeps Colorado's Cup chances within reach

SEATTLE—The Colorado Rapids started their season with Zac MacMath in goal, and that’s how they’re going to end it.

In between, MacMath lost the No. 1 job to US national team keeper Tim Howard. But with Howard now lost to right adductor longus (upper groin) surgery, MacMath wore the gloves again Tuesday as the Rapids opened the Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs Western Conference Championship with a 2-1 road loss to Seattle Sounders FC.

“Obviously, you never want to lose, but it’s still a pretty good result coming back home where we obviously haven’t lost and have a lot to play for,” MacMath said. “(I was) pretty busy early on. I just kind of built my confidence up a little bit. I felt pretty comfortable the rest of the game, dictating the pace of the play and dealing with shots.”

MacMath faced 15 shots. The two that got in came from MLS rookie of the year Jordan Morris in the 13th minute and recently crowned Newcomer of the Year Nicolas Lodeiro on a penalty kick in the 61st minute. MacMath turned away four on-target shots, including a sharp header from Lodeiro at the left post and a low close-range shot by Nelson Valdez at the right.

“I think MacMath had a pretty good game,” said Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni. “It’s not easy coming in and stepping into the season at this point – turf, wet, very good attacking players on the Seattle team – and I think he handled himself really, really well. Kept us in the game, made some really big saves, jumped off his line in the second half, and did a good job controlling the momentum of the game.”

To the Colorado defenders, that came as no surprise.

“We’ve been able to train with him for over two weeks now,” Axel Sjoberg said. “He’s comfortable. He played the first half of the season. He stepped in. He’s been training with us every day of the week. We’re very comfortable with him.”

 MacMath started the first 16 games of the season before Howard reported from the national team. During 17 total regular-season starts, MacMath allowed a league-low 0.76 goals-against average. He is expected to start again Sunday when the Conference Championship resolves at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.

“We have the road goal in our favor,” he said. “If we take care of our business at home, that’s what we need to do.”