Season Reviews

Season Review: Zac MacMath

Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz

There are moments that can define a person. Throughout our lives, we’ve all experienced those moments where, when faced with a challenge, we either rise up or fail. Those opportunities present us with the chance to grow and mature.

For Zac MacMath, that defining moment came on a mid-summer evening at PPL Park. Clinging to a one-goal lead in the dying seconds of Philadelphia Union’s match against FC Dallas on June 29th, the visitors were awarded a free kick following a rash challenge by substitute defender Chris Albright. With the game clock ticking on into the 97th minute, FC Dallas’ Michel lofted a 40-yard free kick into the Union’s penalty area. MacMath rose at the edge of his six-yard box to catch the free kick but made contact with Dallas’ London Woodberry and dropped the ball. David Ferreria flicked the rebound on to Blas Perez, who headed the ball into the net for Dallas.

MacMath’s error was costly for the Union. Perez’s goal was a sucker punch to the home side, who were on the verge of a third consecutive victory. Though the Union had completed June unbeaten in league play, the draw with Dallas felt like a loss.

In the days following the match, the chorus of criticism from Union fans who had lost faith in the young goalkeeper grew to a crescendo. Why didn’t he punch the ball away from danger, some asked. Others questioned if it was time to bench the third year goalkeeper in favor of Chris Konopka or the recently acquired Oka Nikolov. Still more wondered aloud if MacMath was going down the same path as another highly touted University of Maryland goalkeeper, Chris Seitz.

“Obviously, there’s no excuse,” MacMath said in a post match interview. “I should either punch the ball or hold onto it. It’s an error that I shouldn’t make, and we should have won the game.”

With that act of accountability, MacMath’s season began to change for the better. He recovered from what could have been a confidence-crushing mistake and began to recapture the confidence of the PPL Park faithful. The Union net minder recorded seven of his 12 clean sheets following the draw with Dallas, allowing just 18 goals over the final 17 games of the season. Throw out the total team meltdown that was the road match against New England on Aug. 25, and the 22-year old keeper’s goals against average drops to 0.8125 in the second half of the 2013 MLS campaign.

Even more importantly, MacMath showed exactly why the Union used the fifth pick in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft to make him their franchise goalkeeper. Making clutch save after clutch save in matches critical to the Union’s push to reach the MLS Cup playoffs, the former first round pick began to steal points for the boys in blue and gold.

MacMath made big stops to help the Union earn their first ever point at Red Bull Arena in August. He turned in another virtuoso performance on the road at Sporting Park, denying red hot Sporting Kansas City’s every effort, and put the Union in a spot to grab a crucial win down the home stretch of the season. And while Kleberson grabbed all the headlines with his jaw-dropping free kick winner at PPL Park against a woeful Toronto FC, MacMath made sure the Union were in a position to win the game with several timely saves late in the game.

As the club moves on towards the 2014, the question marks surrounding MacMath have largely been erased. He is the club’s No. 1 going forward and a vital part of the Union’s promising young core of players.

MacMath 2013 statsHigh Point

When most Union fans looked at the final five matches of the season, few would have expected the struggling Union to grab a result on the road against Sporting Kansas City. But thanks to MacMath’s Man of the Match performance, the Union claimed their first ever victory in Kansas City and revitalized their charge towards the MLS postseason. In the first half, MacMath did very well to parry away Benny Feilhaber’s close range shot after C.J. Sapong had slipped the midfielder past the Union back line. Minutes later, the Union keeper made a leaping save to deny his former Maryland teammate, Graham Zusi. MacMath also handled Sporting’s aerial threat, calmly dealing with the many crosses lofted into his penalty area. No Union player turned in a more clutch performance this season than MacMath’s turn in front of the hostile Blue Cauldron of Sporting Park.

Low Point

MacMath’s failure to punch away Michel’s lofted free kick allowed FC Dallas to run out of PPL Park with a point. Union fandom loudly questioned whether it was time for MacMath to take a seat on the bench. It was gut check time but the young goalkeeper rebounded and improved his game dramatically over the second half of the season.

Strengths

Shot-stopping. MacMath may be one of the league’s most natural shot-stoppers. He possesses the physical tools to be an elite goalkeeper in this league for many years. Throughout the season, MacMath displayed his mental toughness. The error against FC Dallas could have crushed the confidence of such a young keeper, but former first rounder persevered and stepped up with some big performances for the club.

Having just completed his second full season as the Union’s starting goalkeeper, it’s easy to forget that Zac MacMath is just 22 years old. While he’s still years from his prime, MacMath was statistically one of the top keepers in Major League Soccer.

Weaknesses

The Union goalkeeper must become more assertive on set plays. Too often, the Union conceded goals from set pieces that may have been prevented had MacMath had his defense been better organized. As with any young goalkeeper, MacMath will also need to continue to improve on his consistency and decision making as he moves forward.

Outlook

MacMath spent the latter half of the 2013 MLS season silencing his critics. There’s still work to do as the former Terrapin goalkeeper will look to continue to improve upon his late 2013 form. Entering the 2014 season, MacMath is the undisputed starting goalkeeper for the Union and one of the most important parts of the club’s youthful core.

4 Comments

  1. More than any other player, I think MacMath had his breakout season this year. Jack may have scored 10 goals in the first half, but he was the Union goal scoring leader in 2012. At the beginning of the season I would guess that over 75% of the Union faithful had doubts about Zak. By the end of the season I think that over 75% of the fans think he should be the keeper of the future for the Union.

    • UnitedPenn13 says:

      I am a member of the group that thinks Zak should be the Union starting keeper but I’m not comfortable with only having a 40 year old as his backup.

  2. MacMath really showed me something this year and his development is definitely one of the bright spots of a disappointing season. I was among those calling for him to take a seat after a string of worrying performances, but full credit to him, he stepped up and began playing to his potential. If he continues to improve, no reason he can’t be one of the best in the league next season.

  3. MacMath needs to become better at distributing the ball quicker by throwing it to start an attack. The union is very poor at stating attacks this way. This is one of his biggest weakness (I think bigger than the one you mention above).

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