Raves: Zac MacMath

Photo: Earl Gardner

Editor’s note: In Philadelphia, we’re all familiar with rants about sports. So once a year, PSP’s writers take several days to just flat out rave about players. They may not be the best players, but they’re players we like. Here’s another one in our Raves series.

Our little Zac is growing up right before our eyes in Philadelphia.

You can count me as one of the preseason doubters of whether the Union’s goalkeeping tandem would be good enough to make a run at the playoffs.

But after a somewhat shaky start, Zac MacMath has really steadied himself and become one of the more reliable goalkeepers in MLS. MacMath currently anchors one of the league’s stingiest defenses and leads the league in clean sheets.

One of the best things about MacMath this season is how quickly he has learned from his mistakes. Think back to what might be MacMath’s low point of the season. In June, he tried to catch a free kick at PPL Park late in the game against Dallas in June when he should have punched. He dropped the ball and watched Dallas subsequently fire home the late equalizer.

Instead of dwelling on the play, MacMath took ownership of the mistake and made sure it didn’t happen again.

MacMath’s shot-stopping ability has always impressed, but his game management and ability to make big saves had been more questionable. He has shown marked improvement with each this year.

In the last two months, during which the Union’s goalscoring has all but dried up, it has been outstanding defense and top class goalkeeping that has kept them in matches. Some very specific performances of late come to mind as proof of the evolution of Zac MacMath.

Heading to play Sporting KC in Kansas City, not many people gave the Union a chance to grab a single point, let alone all three. But MacMath piled up big save after big save, particularly in the first half, to secure a clean sheet, and some Conor Casey magic going the other way earned a vital three points.

The game against Toronto will always be remembered for the Kleberson free kick. Some last ditching defending by Ray Gaddis might also come to mind for some fans.

But a crucial stop by MacMath late in the match was just as important to give Kleberson the opportunity to hit that shot. It was a save that MacMath wasn’t making earlier in his career — the save late in a match to give his a team an opportunity to get a result.

The arrival of veteran goalkeeper Oka Nikolov also seemed to have a positive influence on MacMath. It should be no surprise that the times when MacMath has a veteran goalkeeper in the locker room with him, whether it is Nikolov this season or Faryd Mondragon two seasons ago, he has been at the top of his game. This should tell you one vital thing about the youngster — he’s capable of learning from those who have been there before.

It’s always been sold to the Union faithful that big things are in the future for Zac MacMath. With his play this season, there are few that would deny it now.


  1. We’ve sure come a long way from “MacMath isn’t even good enough for the reserves.”

  2. I agree that he is doing better; hell, I would put his recovery and tackle last weekend up there with the best defensive plays by a Union player this year, if he hadn’t caused the need for the recovery by overaggressive play in the first place. I am, however, happy to see that he will likely learn not to attack the ball outside of the box like that again. I was concerned to read earlier this week or late last week that Coach Hackworth doesn’t think that Zac is actually getting coaching from Oka Nikolav; he stated that it is the competition for the starter’s position that is sharpening Zac. If observation is the only thing that Zac is getting from having such an experienced keeper around, then I think that a significant opportunity is being missed.

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