Transfer News

Union sign Algerian goalkeeper Rais M’Bolhi

Photo: Kevin Kinkead

The Philadelphia Union announced today the signing of 28 year old Algerian national team goalkeeper Rais M’Bolhi.

Per MLS and club policy, terms of the deal have not been disclosed.

M’Bolhi comes to the Union from Bulgarian club CSKA Sofia and will be eligible to play for the the Union upon receipt of his international transfer certificate.

Also announced was that backup goalkeeper Brian Holt has been waived.

Club career

Born in France, M’Bolhi began his youth career at RCF Paris before entering the development system at Olympique de Marseille in 2002. There he made 47 appearances but none with the senior squad before being released by the club in the beginning of 2006. M’Bolhi then was signed by Scottish side Heart of Midlothian, making no appearances there before moving on to Greek second division club Ethnikos Piraeus, making five appearances in the 2006-7 season before moving to Greek third division Panetolikos. After 8 appearances in the 2007-8 season, M’Bolhi joined Japanese fourth division club FC Ryūkyū, where former Marseille and Japan national team coach Philippe Troussier had been named general manager, making 22 appearances in the 2008-9 season.

M’Bolhi returned to Europe to play for Bulgarian first division club Slavia Sofia, where he would make 27 appearances in 2009-10. In August of 2010, he was loaned to Bulgarian first division side CSKA Sofia, with whom he had ten appearances, including in Europa League group play. In December of 2010, he was transferred to Russian Premier League side Krylia Sovetov Samara on a three-year deal. There he struggled to establish himself as the starting goalkeeper and in August of 2011 he returned on loan to CSKA Sofia. After a season there that included 28 appearances, he was recalled by Krylia Sovetov. In January of 2013, he was sent out on loan again, this time to Gazélec Ajaccio, making 12 appearances with the French second division side, who were relegated after the season.

M’Bolhi returned to CSKA Sofia, making 17 appearances after signing a three-year contract in August of 2013.

International career

M’Bolhi’s international career began with France, with a handful of appearances for the U-16, U-17, and U-18 national teams. In May of 2010, M’Bolhi was named to the Algeria national team for the 2010 World Cup. In Group  along with the USA, England, and Slovenia, M’Bolhi allowed one goal in two starts in the tournament, keeping a clean sheet in the 0-0 draw with England on June 18, 2010 before conceding Landon Donovan’s 91st minute winner in the 1-0 loss to the US on June 23.

At the 2014 World Cup, M’Bolhi helped Algeria to its first-ever appearance in the knockout phase, winning Man of the Match honors in the 2-1 extra time loss to Germany on June 30 in the Round of 16.

M’Bolhi has a total of 30 appearances for the Algerian national team, including 13 at the Africa Cup of Nations.

Highlight reel of M’Bolhi’s saves at the 2014 World Cup


  1. SMH

  2. Sakiewiez sucks so much.

  3. Sigh.

  4. Hhhmmmmmmm…

  5. Because we need 3 goalies. The other shoe on this, a trade of Mcmath or Blake, better drop very soon.

    How many extra points would the U have gotten this season with M’Bolhi in goal as opposed to Mcmath? Not very many I think.

  6. If Holt was waived, does that mean we’re going to sign Steffen to a HP deal? Or are we going to 2 GK’s after we trade MacMath? The only other option is one that I don’t want to think about: we don’t end up trading anyone, and we become the MLS team with the most unnecessarily deep GK roster.

  7. So…did anyone at this press conference actually ask “Why?” Nothing like overpaying for a player who had a good World Cup showing, but has struggled to start at every club he’s ever been at.

    • That being said… it is pretty cool that Rais chose Philly over several other options (including Champions League). He should get the full support of the fans regardless of our concern for the FO’s priorities.

      • Sadly, I see the reverse of that statement. Philly was the only club that would pay for him. How good could he be?

    • Sounds like there is a “plan in the works” to potentially loan out Zac or Andre within MLS? Curtin also mentioned options for Harrisburg or NASL sides.

  8. Here is another concern, how good is this guy’s english? If he is going to be a strong presence coordinating the defense, what language will that be in? French? Bulgarian?

    Other than a year in Scotland (where he never played) he has never played for an English speaking club.

    • thats a great point jmac

      • old soccer coach says:

        He fielded questions in English and answered them without benefit of a translator in English at the introductory announcing press conference. One of his ear;iest clubs was Hearts of Midlothian in Scotland. If as his background stuff suggests he was educated in France that he be multilingual is likely and English is a plausible language for him.

      • Please let him have a scottish accent.

    • Mondragon didn’t have a problem.
      Keepers will find a way.

      • kingkowboys says:

        The “yell really loudly as soon as something is wrong, scare the piss out of everyone” method worked for Mondragon. Though he could speak english, at least broken english.

      • He would occasionally run outside the box and physically put a player in position.

    • He speaks English fluently.

  9. vinniejonestownmassacre says:

    It’s ok, we’ll just put MacMath at striker and Blake at CB! No, I think MacMath needs to be sold or put on loan then. He’s a good keeper he deserves that. Blake keep on the bench and for friendlies, etc.

  10. Two thoughts I have at this point:
    1. Signing M’Bolhi has to be the first part of an at least two-step move. Otherwise it makes no sense at all to bring him on now and makes no sense at all to have drafted Blake at the beginning of the year. Three great goalies on one team makes absolutely no sense, and another shoe has to fall at some point here.
    2. Wild and totally unfounded speculation here: how important has Sebastien Le Toux become to the organization, not merely from an on-field/team original or fan favorite standpoint? Here’s a guy from France who clearly loves the city of Philadelphia and the surrounding area and is a big fan of the region. I look at the big signings the team has made this year with Vincent Nogueria and now with Rais M’Bolhi, and I can’t help but wonder if he’s been a critical part of bringing them in, of convincing players from French-speaking places that Philadelphia/Southeastern PA/Southern NJ is a great place to live.

  11. No other negotiations have been initiated for Macmath/Blake? Really? There goes all our leverage, now that every team knows we need to unload one of these guys. How much time in there left in the window? Fantastic. Well done, Sak.
    Absolutely idiotic transfer without having planned your other moves. If this window closes and we still have all 3 GKs I’m going to pull my hair out.

    • You do know that the window only applies to international transfers, right? We can trade within MLS at any time. Agreed about our leverage being gone though. Every team we look to trade with will know that we absolutely have to get rid of MacMath, or else lose him in the expansion draft.

      • kingkowboys says:

        Sh!t, you don’t think this is all a move to get a veteran WC goalie AND to then be able to leave MacMath exposed for the expansion draft do you? I didn’t think of that yet. I hope that’s not the case.

      • There’s a comment below that outlines the international calendar for September/October/November. M’bolhi will likely be called up for African Cup of Nations qualifying, and Blake might be out with Jamaica for some time as well. That would still make MacMath likely the guy in goal for much of the time down the stretch if the Union don’t trade him soon.
        The team will have to leave some people exposed in the expansion draft, and if MacMath was exposed, I wouldn’t be surprised if Orlando snapped him up right away. It’s definitely another angle to think about, that bringing in M’bolhi might be more of a move with next year in mind and giving Blake someone more experienced to learn from.

      • kingkowboys says:

        I saw tweets about M’Bolhi and the potential internation call ups. I think that keeping MacMath and loaning Blake with the option to recall (or some other option for a backup) is likely what will happen. We don’t want to be in a playoff race and lose our starting goal keeper.

  12. JediLos117 says:

    This doesnt make us better.
    We had more pressing needs.

    • Great One says:

      I agree with this totally. But you have to add that it is expensive too. We HAVE to get another player better than average as his position for Zac, THIS season, or this move is worthless.

  13. Disappointing signing. We really need a fierce, internationally proven forward. Didn’t see much from Brown in the Cystal Palace friendly to say he is the real fix for issues with finishing up top. CB is also still a need. Would have loved this announcement if it was about Carlos Valdes coming back to Philly. Really confused with this move unless MacMath is traded, but even then i don’t have the faith in our front office that they would bring a new player in that is worth losing MacMath. In my opinion he should have been on the All-Star team last season.

    • kingkowboys says:

      I don’t think a forward is a position that would be signed until Curtin or some other coach is solidified. The position has varying skill sets and styles that different coaches have different opinions on. I think CB is a large more concrete need that needs to be addressed. You are either good or not at CB. There is no style.

  14. 92?? I know i’m going to be asked this by someone at somepoint…

  15. Dafuh?

    I’m fine with the M’Bolhi signing, but the fact that that was it is annoying as hell. I mean are they just trying to piss us off now, like The Phillies refusing to fire Amaro?

  16. woah hold on guys, I just saw his mixtape and he is quite good, MOTM vs Germany, 11 saves. Still don’t like the signing but at least he can play

  17. MK Rogers says:

    International fixture trouble:

    Curtin said MacMath will start on Friday.

    After Friday, there will be 12 regular season games left:
    8/9, 8/15, 8/24, 9/3, 9/6, 9/13, 9/20, 9/27, 10/2, 10/11, 10/18, and 10/26. The USOC semifinal is 8/12 with a potential final 9/30 or 10/1. Potential playoffs would be in the first few weeks of November.

    M’Bolhi will almost definitely be called up during the FIFA dates for Africa Cup of Nations qualifying and related team training, with games set for 9/6, 9/10, 10/10, 10/14, 11/14, and 11/19. To me, it looks like M’Bolhi will only be available for 7 regular season games…

    At the same time, Andre Blake could be called up for Jamaica’s 9/9 friendly for Jamaica, along with any other friendlies the team arranges (since they don’t have to qualify for the Caribbean Cup as hosts). Should the Union make the playoffs and Blake get a call up for the Caribbean Cup, the team could end up with MacMath and an emergency pool goalkeeper for the postseason.

    • That is some solid interneting. Good show!

      • OneManWolfpack says:

        Agreed, nice research. And it really is also a serious issue. With the way this team does this business, and with that schedule playing out the way it does… I would bet my house that Zac is with this team until the end of the year.
        We’re gonna lose 2 things in the near future: Zac to Orlando in the expansion draft and then MY FRICKIN’ MIND!!!

    • John Ling says:

      “… 9/27, 10/2 … USOC … potential final 9/30 or 10/1.”
      Well, that sure would make for a crowded couple of days wouldn’t it? Is there any way they’d actually have games on back-to-back days, with 10/01 being a potential final date and a league date on 10/02?

      • MK Rogers says:

        I’d imagine they’d move the Chicago game to accommodate. Players Union has rules against guys going a certain number of minutes in a short time period (used to be an issue with Reserve League games).

      • John Ling says:

        Except the Chicago game is scheduled for ESPN2. Just to add an extra layer of complexity to it…

      • Andy Muenz says:

        Maybe if the Union and Fire both win their semifinals, they can just combine the US Open Cup Final and MLS game the next day into one game…

    • kingkowboys says:

      I saw these dates on twitter. I think keeping MacMath with his understanding of split playing time, then moving him in the offseason is the move now.

  18. Over at brotherlygame, there’s this:

    “Curtin confirmed that M’Bolhi would be the number one keeper with MacMath as the backup, however Zac will be the starter for the upcoming fixture on Friday against Sporting Kansas City. As for when the change of starter will happen both Sakiewicz and Curtin were a little vague, saying that issues of adjusting to this side of the Atlantic and fitness will be addressed ‘behind closed doors’. ”

    So MacMath will be a backup soon or sent elsewhere it appears. Can’t imagine him being thrilled with a backup role….

  19. Wasn’t there someone on in here in Jan/Feb who said he was talking to team officials and Sakwiecz and some other guy had a very dim view of McMath? If Sak made this move with no other thought than the Union were going to leave McMath unprotected in the expansion draft, it is a terrible use of resources. In fact, it makes so little sense I still don’t believe there is not another move coming, even despite the fact they apparently said there wasn’t. Have to admit though that there is a small bit of fear that Sak is that foolish- he proved it in Tampa and New York. Having McMath available for a couple games in September if M’Bohli and Blake are on international duty does not seem like a good enough reason to me to risk locker room disatisfaction.

  20. I don’t know.. I mean.. MacMath has had a good season, but I think that’s b/c he had a really bad showing last year… it’s relative…
    I don’t see MacMath as a “championship” caliber goalkeeper, hes’ a good keeper… that’s about it… and in front of a strong defense, he could have a good/great season.. Not a commanding presence by any means.
    I see M’Bolhi as double goodness, obviously world class skills (as demonstrated) and box commander like the Dragon. Both crucial for a defense/team to have confidence.
    A great goalkeeper makes the saves he is supposed to and occasionally make the saves he is not… MacMath last year did neither, this year he is occasionally making those great saves… but…. he is still not consistently making the saves he is supposed to….

    • I wouldn’t argue too much with anything you said though I thought McMath was pretty good this year. Maybe if Blake wasn’t here I wouldn’t be too upset, but in a salary cap league it makes zero sense to have 3 MLS starter-caliber GKs on your roster.

    • OneManWolfpack says:

      I’m with you that we could upgrade from Zac. I’m fine with that idea. (I’m not saying he’s terrible or anything… he has been pretty good this whole season). Problem is, for MLS, we should be able to get something in return for MacMath. Not just lose him to the expansion draft. That’s just terrible business.

      • Hopefully the other shoe will drop and we bring someone in and transfer/loan MacMath. Hard to imagine, though with these reports that Blake and M’Bolhi could be called up to national teams when we might really need them.

    • James Lockerbie says:

      Well said Sir,

      Macmath has done a good job this year but he is doesn’t have the natural athletic abilities that blake and M’Bolhi. And his reaction time is slower then an eighty year older driver

  21. old soccer coach says:

    When does McMath’s current contract expire?

  22. Cap'n Crunch says:

    Obviously Sak has a plan here fellas. He knows you can’t have 3 starting caliber net minders. Seriously. Give the guy a little credit. The expansion draft is coming. Sak can generate value for McMath between teams needing a goalie now and other teams that would like to lock up McMath without waiting on the expansion draft after the season. Try to chill. There are some neat options available out there. Corey Ashe at LB is one such option. There are many other potential deals out there with MLS expanding. Do it Sak. Please don’t make me a liar!!!!!!!!

    • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

      I think a lot of the concern comes from the fact that no move has been made yet. Had they traded MacMath to allegedly give Blake “the playing time he has earned and deserves”, gotten the return on MacMath and then signed M’Bolhi, there would be less negativity.
      Announcing now with no deal for MacMath in place gives whatever trade value he had a big hit. I think that is what has a lot of people frustrated.

    • Maybe Sak has a solid loan offer & that’s the trade leverage. And vice versa. But making M’Bohli your starter if he’s going to miss key matches during cup call ups makes no sense.

      • Maybe a loan to DC United? They just lost their #2 keeper for the remainder of the season.

      • I had Europe in mind, like the Champions League. A nice audition for Zac. Do you loan your starting GK to a division rival? And for what?

      • Im not sure Zac is ready for CONCACAF CL, much less Europe. He’s like 16th in GAA and 15th in Save % in MLS starters. Are you seriously suggesting a UEFA CL team wants him? We’ll be lucky to deal him to Vancouver.

      • I think he means the Championship.

    • Why obviously? It is still not obvious why they traded up to take Blake, or why Blake has “earned” playing time, or how he is going to get it with 2 goalies in front of him at the moment. The U’s recent history of moves does not inspire confidence.

      And as others have said, having 3 goalies on the roster does not help Sak’s leverage in making a deal.

  23. Great One says:

    There has to be something else done here. It is not acceptable to just hope Zac is taken in the expansion draft. Not to mention we get nothing for him that way. On top of that we just took on a huge salary.
    The more I think about this the more I don’t like it. Is the Blake draft going to be blamed on Hackworth? I would much rather have traded Zac for someone, let Blake start, and use the money on a proven LB or FWD.

  24. Sack the Sak – he’s the reason the Union are in their present predicament. Using designated/significant money for a CDM and a goalie (if M’Bolhi is one) does not seem to make much sense – attacking mid or forward would.

    • James Lockerbie says:

      Dude get over it! Sak is part owner you can’t fire the owner. Until I win the mega million and buy him out we’re all stuck with him.

      • You cannot take his minority interest but the other partners who put in real cash definitely have a say whether he should still be operating partner. Nothing to get over – the real money partners need to act to save their investment. And I hope you win the lottery but think my approach is more likely.

      • James Lockerbie says:

        Yes, I thought of that after I read my post. He could still own a small part of the team but be removed from the C.E.O position. So I guess, you could FIRE Sak

  25. I smell Mr Allocation Money making a return for the U in MacMath’s stead. What other leverage do they have? Unless they can get something significant from one of the expansion teams NYCFC or Orlando.

  26. The Chopper says:

    The front office still does not believe in MacMath long term. He is in good form for the moment and still young so his market value is at a high point. It’s a good time to move him. While he does the first job of the keeper well (keeping the ball out of the net), the FO still doesn’t believe in his ability to command his box. They also feel his defenders lack confidence in his command of the box and that leads to defensive breakdowns and the inability to hold a higher line. Sakiewicz is a former keeper, so you can bet this is his move.

    In the short term a veteran keeper should help better organize a defense that needs on field direction and improve distribution.

    At the same time, I always am skeptical about paying good dollars for international keepers when it’s the one position where the USA produces more than enough serviceable bodies.

    • which of the rotating cast of defenders don’t have confidence in Mcmath? Wheeler? Fabinho? Berry? White? If that is the reason for moving Mcmmath it is even more suspect.

      • I don’t really think it is much of a dispute that Zac doesn’t do a good job of commanding (or organizing) the defense. I do think MacMath is a good, not great, MLS keeper. If we can upgrade here then so be it. However, we now have a DP (M’Bolhi), a #1 MLS draft pick (Blake), and another high MLS draft pick with 2 years MLS starter experience (MacMath) at goalie. In a salary cap world that is way too many resources lavished on the goalie position, especially when we have other areas on the field that are in dire need of an upgrade. Hopefully the Union correct their allocation of resources and move one of these goalies. Unfortunately it looks like that may not occur until the end of the season.

      • John Ling says:

        How sure are you M’Bolhi is a DP? Rumors prior to the signing (as posted here in various news roundups) had him signing for $300,000. As best as I can tell with a quick Google search, the DP number for this season is $387,500.

      • MK Rogers says:

        A few people are reporting he’s in here as a DP. Mid-year DP signings carry a $193,750 cap hit. If M’Bolhi had started the season with the U as a DP, he would have counted $387,500 against the cap.

      • Also a rumour he cost $670k to transfer, which like Maidana means he’s a DP.

      • The Chopper says:

        Yes, the defense has been a mess this year, but this is not a this year, knee jerk signing. MacMath has played an awful lot of MLS minutes and they came to this determination quite some time ago.

        The Union have been a disaster on set pieces for a number of seasons now and while much of the blame goes to poor marking, some it also goes to a lack of command of the box, properly setting your defenders and better decision making coming of your line. And a lot of that also carries over to the run of regular play.

  27. for the future . .

    The Union should never be allowed to use another first round pick again on a goalie . . . just like the Phillies should never ever be allowed to use their first round pick on a “toolsie” high school position player

  28. PS . . . where’s Dan’s take on this. I want to be able to use my crappy Italian to English Google translation tool.

  29. Great One says:

    The problem here is that there is almost no good way out of this for the Union.
    1. We keep all 3 goalies. This has significant resources tied up in a position 1 person plays 99% of the time. Also, the Blake pick is essentially wasted.
    2. We trade Zac. The Blake pick is still essentially wasted as he has to wait 3 years to start.
    3. We trade Zac and Blake. The organization loses 2 of it’s top picks in the last 4 years.

    • The Chopper says:

      This frees up Blake to go on loan. The Union have determined he is not ready to be an MLS starter, so he needs to go somewhere and get minutes. Lots of them. Now when he is around the first team he is watching and hopefully learning from a world class goalkeeper and not from Zak MacMath. This,helps Blake over the long run.

      As for Zak, if the Union can get something for him, great. If not, he’s a good backup to have If he goes in the expansion draft,so be it, somebody has to.

      I don’t lost sleep over draft picks that dont work out. In MLS , most of them don’t.

  30. Massive, massive upgrade. I don’t follow MLS well enough to know what might be out there in terms of desire for MacMath or players who could help the team get better, and frankly I don’t give a damn. This quality international level GK makes the team better instantly. The rest of the noise here does not concern me. Roster moves / draft picks / allocation money / blah blah blah.

  31. Cap'n Crunch says:

    Osager is 100% correct in his post. Upgrading our goalkeeper is huge. And we traded away nothing. If we can secure Valdes for the stretch run I’m cool with the goalie upgrade.

  32. It could be an upgrade but we have had many players in the past with same tag that failed us –Serbian-Adu, Pajoy, Gomez, Coudet etc. The taste of the pudding they say is in the eating. Again talking WC experience is just because he played for Algeria. Would he make the US WC team? Not to discredit the accomplishment, but playing WC for Algeria cannot be much of a big deal considering that Lahoud for crying out loud is a Sierra Leon international and a bench player for the Union.

    • Smoovinho says:

      Starting for Algeria is a much bigger deal than playing for Sierra Leone.

    • Algeria took Germany to extra time or weren’t you watching? It was a big deal. The Yanks did not do as well. I believe the Union/MLS likely overpaid for him based on his recent performance, but let’s not misunderstand the transaction. He is not rated _because_ he played “WC for Algeria,” rather, he is rated because of _how_ he played in that tournament.

  33. Socialist Sympathizer says:

    First they trade McInerney and now they’re probably gonna demote MacMath! I thought the front office out here in San Jose was the King of Incompetence, but it looks like Sakiewicz and Company are looking to claim that crown. I’m starting to rethink buying Union season tickets when I move back to Philly next year. I’ll probably still watch games on MLS LIVE, though. Hopefully Philly won’t be the Montreal of the ’15 season.

  34. It is an upgrade, that highlight video was fun. I hope we make a trade rather than let him get snatched up, even if the trade is totally unfair, it’s worth it…we have plenty more people we can leave exposed for the expansion draft (it’s 4 right?) So off the top of my head…Wheeler, Lahoud, Carroll, and Cruz…) yup have at it folks.

  35. The Realist Brian says:

    Late to the party (traveling), but I have to add:

    The level of incompetence and tone-deafness by Sak-of-shits is astounding on multiple levels.
    1. We didn’t need a goalie. MacMath was actually starting to come into his own this year, and he didn’t have as many blunders as he had last year. How many PKs did he save this year, or stand on his head making after save? Sak looks out, casts his net, and then demotes his starting keeper sight unseen to a new guy that is unproven in this league. That will certainly do wonders for the locker room.
    2. What business does Sak-o-shits run outside of soccer? Because he is an awful decision maker and negotiator. Any trade value that our two goalies that we did have on the books immediately goes out the window, and teams that were looking for a goalie really doesn’t have to part with much now to get one of them. If Sak was smart, he would have made the move to trade a goalie days before, or that day before he signed Rais. He knew he was coming and signing, probably had it done a week or two ago. Why the fuck would you lose all VALUE by having three goalies on the team. No sense here what so evah, as the Bostonians say.
    3. The comments today were laughable from puppet Jim Curtain… he got his marching orders to talk up the signing, and talked about young goalies not getting chances in bigger leagues. Liviu Bird came out strongly against that with Howard (19), Cortois, Valdes, on down the list that refutes this comment. Sak’s bullshit was all over that comment. I can imagine him threatening Jim saying if he wants any chance at this job or staying in the organization, he better toe the company line. Such fucking bullshit.

    • Not Grumpy says:

      Nah. Don’t agree at all. Sorry. We need Zach to play in 5-6 games while goalie upgrade Rais is called up for international duty. Andre Blake goes to Harrisburg and starts every single game.
      Then Sak brings back Valdes and is currently (I assume) looking for a proper left back like (Jordan Harvey? Corey Ashe?) through trade. Don’t forget Sak brought in Brian Brown from Jamaica too and he looks like the real deal! Sak’s doing a good job. We are going for it Brian. Not compiling allocation money. Get it? Get on board bro. Playoffs or bust!

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