Zac MacMath knows it’s only a matter of time before he loses his job to World Cup veteran Rais Mbolhi, who was signed by the Philadelphia Union two weeks and declared the starter as soon as he’s ready.
But before that happens, MacMath decided to provide the Union with one of the most memorable moments in club history.
With Tuesday night’s US Open Cup semifinal contest against FC Dallas deadlocked at 1-1 through 90 minutes of regulation and 30 minutes of extra time, MacMath made two huge shootout saves to propel the Union to the club’s first-ever championship game.
The Union will host the winner of Wednesday’s Seattle-Chicago game on Sept. 16 in the Open Cup championship at PPL Park.
“It’s tough for any goalkeeper to go into a PK shootout,” MacMath said. “You got the chance to win it for your team. You really just know you have to make one save hopefully and your team can do the rest. Thankfully I got two saves tonight.”
MacMath is no stranger to penalty kicks this season, having already stopped three, including one on reigning MLS MVP Mike Magee in the final seconds of a tie game.
Knowing that, his teammates and coaches didn’t offer him much advice before the shootout, with interim manager Jim Curtin only telling him to “enjoy it.” And because of MacMath’s past success, the Union went into the shootout really confident, even with their ace penalty kick taker – Sebastien Le Toux – on the bench.
“We didn’t want to try to get in his head,” midfielder Amobi Okugo said. “He’s been saving PKs all season. We knew that if we made ours, he would at least get one. And he did a great job getting two.”
Okugo was prepared to take the fifth penalty kick but it never got that far, with Sheanon Williams, Vincent Nogueira, Cristian Maidana and Maurice Edu burying theirs and MacMath stopping Blas Perez and then Victor Ulloa to win it.
“I was ready,” laughed Okugo, who gave the Union a 1-0 lead in the 47th minute. “I picked five on purpose. But that’s how it goes. Zac came up clutch and I didn’t have to go. In the big moments, he came up big and we appreciate him for that.”
The shootout saves also came as sweet redemption for MacMath, who allowed the game-tying goal from Fabian Castillo in the 81st minute when he charged way off his line but was beaten to the ball, leaving Castillo to shoot on an open net and MacMath to lament that he “made us work a little bit harder than we needed to.”
But MacMath still finished with five saves to help the Union survive 120 minutes against a team they had never beaten – before playing the role of hero to continue the club’s quest for their first trophy.
“It’s awesome,” MacMath said. “It’s a feeling this club has never had before. I know our fans back home are really excited and we’re happy to bring it back for them.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.