Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath
Getty Images

Union 'keeper MacMath finding his voice as a starter

PORTLAND, Ore. – Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath is a man of few words. And that might be his biggest hurdle heading into his first season as a starter in MLS.

“Having more of a voice back there with the guys, more than I did last year. I was probably a little bit taking in more things [in 2011],” MacMath answered on Sunday, when asked what he's had to work on the most this offseason after the unexpected departure of incumbent starter Faryd Mondragon. “This year I have to be one of the main guys that speaks up during practices and whatnot.”

Adu, MacMath and a Youthful Union Ready for Fight

It’s not a surprise to hear a young ‘keeper identify that as a stumbling block. In profession sports leadership is earned, not given, and every player is keenly aware of the hierarchy of experience.

But MacMath and the Union are determined to turn it all into a positive. For his part, veteran defensive midfielder Brian Carroll – who’s won everything there is to win in MLS – thinks the defensive unit are up to that task.

“It allows other guys to step up and grow into a leadership role,” Carroll said to MLSsoccer.com of Mondragon’s departure. “I think Zac is a tremendous talent who is going to be doing great things this year. Part of that is growing up fast and taking on a communicative role from the goal, and I certainly think Zac is capable of growing into that role.”

The 20-year-old netminder certainly showed potential to do so in 2011, when he went undefeated with three wins and four draws in seven starts.

But his first test of 2012 won’t be an easy one. The Portland Timbers were no pushovers as an expansion side, and have only strengthened the roster in the offseason – particularly with the addition of Scottish striker Kris Boyd, who’s likely to command a fair helping of MacMath’s focus in Monday’s clash (9:30 pm ET; ESPN 2, ESPN Deportes).

For Carroll, who’s entering his 10th season in the league, it’s all just part of the growth MLS has experienced.

“It’s been fast and furious. Every single year the quality of the league has gotten better,” Carroll said. “I think you see that with some of the big names that have come over to [MLS]. For guys to consider this league not only in their late-prime years, but in their early-prime years, and even their young years... it’s a league that everyone is considering now.”

And for a young goalkeeper, that can mean trouble. But MacMath is focused, and, from all accounts, ready.

“I feel good, I feel confident,” the ever-economical youngster explained. “You know, [I’m] just ready for the season to get going.”