Press Conference

Video and transcript: Rais M’Bolhi unveiling

Editor’s note: Questions have been paraphrased.

Opening statement from Nick Sakiewicz

Thanks everybody for coming. I first want to take a moment to welcome Rais to our club, we are very excited that you made the decision to finish up a great World Cup and come join the Philadelphia Union. So, from our ownership, from our fans, from our front office staff, welcome, welcome to Philadelphia.

I want to take a moment also to thank two guys who really did an amazing job getting this deal to the finish line, technical director Chris Albright, who did a tremendous job in working with Hugo Varela, who’s been a great friend of the club and a terrific representative representing Rais’ best interests in all of this.

We couldn’t be more excited to welcome this player to our club. We have a couple of fantastic young goalkeepers in our roster right now in Zac MacMath and Andre Blake, two terrific, promising guys that are going to be tremendous goalkeepers some day, and we just added an incredible veteran goalkeeper, and I think it’s really going to bolster our goalkeeping core — I’ll let Jim speak on the dynamics of the roster with Rais on board — but I’m personally very excited because now we have three of the best goalkeepers in Major League Soccer, in my opinion. And with Rais’ veteran leadership — he’s at an age now where he’s hitting the prime for a goalkeeper; goalkeepers develop much later than field players, I think that’s a pretty well known fact — and at 28 years old, he’s hitting his stride now as a top class goalkeeper, and I couldn’t be more excited.

This is the beginning of our activity in the transfer window. Chris has been fantastic working with Jim and the rest of the technical staff identifying what we need and laying out a really, really good plan to build this team and make a serious run not just in the short term for the playoffs, but really build a core group of players that we can count on for many, many years to come.

So, thank you Hugo, thank you Chris for doing this great work, and thank you Rais for making us your decision. We know you had many others to choose from, some fantastic clubs that we were competing with for your services and I’m delighted that you decided to Philly, so, thank you — welcome.

Opening statement from Jim Curtin

Before we open up for questions, I’d like to welcome Rais to the club. As a coach, you get very excited when you can bring in a player of his caliber. A world class goalkeeper, they don’t grow on trees, they’re difficult to find, and it was a World Cup that you saw a lot of exceptional goalkeepers, and he was one of them. And, again, this is a process: we evaluated him and were very impressed. As the process went along, we were excited for him to choose Philadelphia. What people need to understand too is he chose Philadelphia as a city over Champions League clubs to come here, so he needs to be shown a lot of love for that from our great fanbase, to the Sons of Ben and the River End guys who understand what that means. To the lay fan, who’s maybe thinking about the Philadelphia Union and what this is all about and what Rais is all about, it’s the equivalent of Cliff Lee choosing the Phillies over the Yankees. For the casual fan out there, that’s what this is. It’s a serious decision by him, and it shows a commitment to this city, to this club, and we’re extremely happy to have him on board. He’s a winner.

Opening statement from Rais M’Bolhi

I’m really happy to be here today, it’s a big day, really proud to be part of the Union today. I wanted to thank Nick, and Chris as well, ’cause they had to work a lot, but finally we made it. Once again, I’m really happy and looking forward to starting.

I’ve been talking to Hugo, my representative, and it’s been six or seven months that I’ve been calling the Union. Then I got the chance to come over here and meet Nick and to see the club. Nick knows he has a vision of everything, and I have mine as well. Since I met Nick, my decision was already made because he wants to win, he has a really nice project, and that’s what I was looking for, a project and a club with the value, like family and stuff. So, it made my decision fairly easy.

Question to Jim Curtin: Who will be the goalie against Kansas City on Friday?

Yes I can. Rais has had a whirlwind. Right now, he’s been on a plane, he’s after the World Cup, obviously, the great success Algeria had, some down time. Going into Friday, we’ll carry on with Zac as our starter and Andre as the backup. Rais will be back here doing some fitness. We’ll have dialogue behind the scenes, myself and Rais, and, when he’s ready to go, he’s our starter.

To Jim Curtin: What do you envision that timetable to be? Is M’Bolhi the goalie of the future?


To Jim Curtin: What was Zac MacMath’s reaction to M’Bolhi’s signing?

I had a good talk with Zac. It’s a hard discussion, but Zac’s a professional. He’s a young goalkeeper — he’s still only 23 years old, people forget that. He’s played a lot of games, but, we felt, as a staff and as a club, that this was a move that Zac and Andre could both learn from a player like Rais, who can pass down a litany of experience. Success at the highest level against the best team in the world in Germany, but it’s not just that one game though, he’s put together multiple World Cups; his accolades I don’t have to talk about, you know what they are. So, a world class goalkeeper who can help two younger goalkeepers, it was a no brainer for us, and it puts us in a position now to make a run at the playoffs. You think about our next 13 games are playoff games, that’s how we’re going to treat them — there’s no room for error, there’s no margin for error. Nick and I discussed when I first took over and there were three wins from 16 games, there were discussions of what direction did we want to go. We could have gone with, you know,play all the young guys, but I believed, and Nick believed, we had enough quality in our locker room to win now. And then to add this piece is a huge one for us. I think this puts us right in the thick of things in the Eastern Conference and we’re going to make a run in these last 13 games. So, again, I’m excited for that.

Nick Sakiewicz interjects

Let’s not forget that we’re in the semifinals of the Open Cup championship, so we’re two games away from our first trophy.

To Jim Curtin: Are there any trades in the works?

That stuff behind closed doors for sure. Listen, we have two young, good goalkeepers, right? The object is not to have them sit for several years, or anything like that, we’re going to have them — there’s a million different variables that can go into that, but there is a plan, and the plan is in the works right now. We’ll be as open with Andre and Zac in that regard, whether it’s loaning them out in-league or whether — there’s a million possibilities that will help them develop as players. But,you know that, young goalkeepers need experience. I joked around with them yesterday, but Zach Thornton, he’s a Villanova coach and a guy that I respected a lot and played with, and he talked about his development as a player, he played behind Jorge Campos and Tony Meola, and they were some of the most valuable experiences he ever gained. Goalkeeper is a unique position, in that your prime is usually around 30. We have two young kids that are 23 that have had a taste of what it is and what it’s like to play in games, but don’t quite know what playoff games are like. They haven’t experienced that. We feel we have a guy now that, in the biggest stage that our sport has, thrived.

To Jim Curtin: Will MacMath and Blake be sitting on the bench?

We have an affiliate in Harrisburg, there’s a lot of NASL teams, there’s in-league loans, there’s 50 different ways you can get young goalkeepers games. And, again, it’s not often, if you look in Europe and the rest of the world, where two 22 and 23 year old kids get handed the keys to clubs, it doesn’t happen, anywhere. Does it happen in MLS? Occasionally, but it can be a roller coaster too with the young goalkeepers. You can see the different guys in the league — I’m not going to name names — but you guys can see the goalkeepers that have been young and have had a ton of success, and then they have a year where it doesn’t go so well. And then it’s another year where it does go well, so it’s a roller coaster. We’re trying to get some stability with it, and then that’s our goal right now. Again, the lessons that he’ll be able to teach Zac and Andre are invaluable. This day’s about Rais though.

Nick Sakiewicz interjects

You know he played in this little tournament in Brazil about a month ago. Just a little tournament.

To Rais M’Bolhi: You’ve played a several clubs in several different countries. How much did the desire to settle down come into your decision to come to Philadelphia?

Yeah, very. As you said, I’ve been traveling all around but I didn’t really have the chance to stay in a club and prove what I can do because in all these countries I didn’t feel that good, you know? It’s a package, you have to feel good on the field, off the field, and if off the field you’re not well, you’re not going to be good.

To Rais M’Bolhi: What did you know about MLS before deciding to come over?

Like I said, I’ve been watching the MLS the past several months with Hugo, and I know that it’s a league that is getting better. A lot of big players are coming to play here, and for me, it was a great chance.

I was really impressed because even in Bulgaria, it’s not like this. They don’t have these kinds of stadiums, these kinds of facilities. I think a lot of clubs in Europe don’t have these kinds of facilities. That’s why I chose the Union.

To Rais M’Bolhi: What do you consider your biggest strengths?

Now, I would say the experience. I wouldn’t say that maybe two years ago, or even a year ago. But, right now, I can say experience.

To Rais M’Bolhi: What do you do to build on that World Cup experience?

Work. Nothing else. The first part of the season last year I didn’t play, it was really hard. But, I had my goal, my goal was the World Cup, and the only word was work, nothing else.

To Rais M’Bolhi: Can you describe what the experience of playing in two World Cups was like?

It’s the biggest competition ever for a football player, it was a great experience. Also, I’ve learned a lot about the very high level. So, I think I grow as a man and as a goalkeeper by playing these two World Cups.

To Nick Sakiewicz: Where you on the same page as John Hackworth and Rob Vartughian in trading up to draft Andre Blake?

Yeah, I think all of us were, talking about it. If you guys were following it at the time, and I think many of you were, Andre was by far the absolute, incontestable No. 1 draft pick, and the best player, certainly, at the combine, and the best player coming out of college. We’re in the business of collecting very good players, and that’s what we did.

It seems like there’s a logical disconnect between wanting veteran goalies and drafting young goalies, how do you reconcile those tow different things?

Jim Curtin answers

I can take that one.  We acquired assets; those are good assets. Like Nick said, Andre Blake was the consensus — you talk to every coach in the league — he was the consensus best player there. And we still believe he has a tremendous future with the club. Drafts are — you know, you go back, you can’t really break them down until three years later, at least, at a minimum. If you go back and look at a lot of the drafts, like Chris and I have done, if you look back in 200o and all the way through, it’s kind of hilarious some of the selections that get made. So, it’s not a perfect science. You look at the kid who you could argue now is having the best year in MLS from the draft, he went to the Colorado School of Mines and he plays for FC Dallas. He was on very few people’s radar. So, again, you don’t know when these guys are going to break, when their moment comes, and you can’t always estimate when they’re going to ticket. But you look at Andre as a goalkeeper and, at the time when we selected him, he was the best asset in MLS. And, it wasn’t close at the time. When you speak to people in the know, every coach, every GM, and that was kind of our direction. He still has a bright future, it doesn’t mean it’s the end for Andre Blake by any means.

To Jim Curtin: What have you conversations with Andre Blake been like?

I told Andre, listen, he’s played in two Open Cup games, he’s performed well. He hasn’t been perfect. He understands that, he knows he has room to improve, he has room to grow. He’s a good kid. He’s upset, obviously, because, like any professional, he’s competitive, he’s gotten a taste of it. The Crystal Palace game, he makes a ton of amazing saves but then you look at the goal we give up and it’s a communication issue between the center back and the goalkeeper. So these are the highs and lows with young goalkeepers. It’s not a Union thing, that is a world thing with young goalkeepers, they need time to develop. Rais has been through that process as a goalkeeper and, like he said, as a man. And it takes time. And that’s where we’re at with that.

To Jim Curtin: What other positions are you looking at fortifying in the transfer window?

Obviously we’ve put an emphasis on the back, up the middle. Not conceding goals has been my mantra to you guys since I’ve taking over the team. If you look at where we are in goals against in the league, we’re tied for 15th. Everybody wants to say we need a forward, we need a forward, but this club does not need a forward right now. We have Conor Casey and we have Sebastien Le Toux, both of who are scoring goals like crazy. We’re second in the league — for those who are stats guys, I’m a wins and losses guy —  but if you want to go with that we can say were second in the league in goals scored, we’re 15th in goals against. So, that’s the direction we’re going. Will we add another piece in the back? Possibly, that could happen. When the right forward comes around, of course we’re going to listen. We’re doing a ton of work,  Chris is out searching the world for top strikers. We know we need speed. We know we’d like to add some speed in the attacking positions on the field because speed stretches the field and opens space for Maidana and Nogueira underneath. So that’s an option we’re looking at. But we’re happy with the goals we’re scoring. If you look at the last four games, it’s tightening up goals against. And goals against is not just the defense. It’s a team issue. That’s our front three defending from the front to the pack. And, obviously, the goalkeeper is a big piece. People talk about the spine of the team –- we want to be strong. And if you start to look at it now, we’re improving right up the middle, especially with the guy to my left.

(Audio cuts out. Nick Sakiewicz is responding to a question)

…defensive soccer. That is not the case. Building from the back  — goalkeeper is, yes, a defender, but he’s the first to attack. A center back, defenders, they’re the first to attack. So, in football, in soccer, just because you’re recruiting and putting goalkeepers and defenders on your roster doesn’t mean that you’re a defensive minded team. It actually means, in our case, a little bit of the contrary, because we’re trying to build the attack out of the back, and you need to do that with experienced players.

 To Nick Sakiewicz: Any updates on the Carlos Valdes situation?

I’m not sure, that’s a Chris Albright question. I get an update every five minutes and I think the last one is the same as the previous five minutes, so, the saga continues.

To Rais M’Bolji: What do you know of Philadelphia, have you been able to see much of the city?

Not really. I had the chance, I came two weeks ago to walk around a little bit. I love what I saw already, you know? Me and my wife are really looking forward to come and living here.

To Rais M’Bolhi: Was there a move to MLS by a player you know that helped you decide to come over?

Not really. As I said before, once I had the chance to talk to Nick, he showed me what he was trying to build and the spirit of the club. I was looking for this – stability, a really good project.

To Rais M’Bolhi: Are there players in the league that you’re familiar with?

Yeah, I know one player that we’re playing against on Friday, the French defender for Kansas City. He’s a really good friend of mine.

To Rais M’Bolhi: Have you spoken to him yet?

Not yet, because he don’t know I’m here yet.

Nick Sakiewicz interjects to laughter

He knows now.

To Jim Curtin: Does this change Maurice Edu’s role at all as a defensive leader?

No, not really. Everybody’s spot on the team changes a little bit whenever a new player comes into the team. In the locker room, it might. I think the two of them actually have similar characteristics, very good young players. I think they’ll hit it off, they’ll get along well and we’ll move on from there.

To Rais M’Bolhi: Are you familiar with American sports?

American sports? I don’t understand the rules of baseball. Football, basketball – yeah.

To Rais M’Bolhi: What’s the meaning behind choosing the number 92 for your jersey number?

No connection, just love it, love this number. I don’t know why. 92.

Final remarks from Nick Sakiewicz

I just want to thank everybody for coming and, once again, we know the transition across the Atlantic is a tough one, but we’re going to help you make the transition for you and your wife, and congratulations Rais.


  1. Do you think the Union front office can’t understand why the fanbase is a bit underwhelmed by this?
    They seemed really intent on hyping up a world cup goaltender.
    At least we didn’t get that Russian guy.

    • They are shocked that the fans aren’t showering them with accolades after hearing the words “World Cup.”
      I’m looking forward to a lame duck keeper in goal against SKC.

  2. crying right now says:

    “You know he played in this little tournament in Brazil just about a month ago. Just a little tournament.” God I just wanna punch Sak in the face right now. This is not the time to be joking around. How does he think Zac feels? He does so well and now they’re just gonna throw him out on the street? Well that’s just BS and im never gonna forgive them for that. Btw Curtin, Zac is still 22 until aug 7. Yeah, great b-day present I know.

  3. I can see what the Union are in the process of doing. If as Curtin says, they are in the business of collecting assets to build a more competitive team I can see their rationale. It seems to me that Sakeiwicz is trying to go in a direction away from the Hackworth influence. Hackworth was limited as a pro coach and was stifling the development of a lot of players while trying to recreate the wheel with others. It does seam like after 5 years they are doing what they should have been doing all along. Now if they can bring in quality to sure up weaknesses I’m all for it. Of course that depends on who comes in next via transfer, lone etc. It’s just a shame that they have ridden MacMath all this way and moved Blake down the depth chart. Could be that the window to get M’Bolhi was closing and they needed to get it done and moves involving one of the young goalies is coming. My main concern now is Valdes. Why isn’t this done already? If that gets screwed up that a lot of people are going to be pissed.

    • I would have preferred to see the union hire a GK coach rather than spend money on another high-budget GK. As many have said, we have other priorities.
      I think this move was done b/c Valdes isn’t going to pan out, although I’d love to be wrong about that. Based on what I’ve heard, we’re at 20 salary cap roster spots, and we’d have to move someone to fit Valdes in. And where’s the money going to come from to pay his current salary, let alone what we’d need to pay him on a new contract?

      • Good points. If true then the Union are going to have some major damage control to do yet again! Not convinced though that Valdes won’t be coming. I’m hoping anyway. I like the M’Bolhi signing. From what I can see the Union backline better get it together because M’Bolhi is an ass kicker and will get in their faces if need be.

  4. james lockerbie says:

    Ok here’s a thought is it just a coincidence or a fact that the only time the union made it into the playoffs was with a veteran goal keeper mondragon. I believe this was done to win now! Isn’t that what we have been screaming for?

    • Yessssss

      • I wonder if it was Tim Howard how everyone would react…great move and I really love Zac…he is family.

    • It’s not a coincidence but it’s not a direct correlation either.
      You can also say the only time the Union made the playoffs was the only time we had a high level pair of central defenders working cohesively.

    • also as a win now strategy it is kind of wrong headed. As it has been said many many times before Goalkeeping hasn’t been a problem. An improvement in goalkeeping has an incremental improvement. an improvement in left back would pay massive dividends.

    • Not Grumpy says:


    • If this move was done to win now, then the Union front office is as dumb as a box of rocks. The year the Union made the playoffs, they has Mondragon…and the best set of defenders the team has ever had. That central defense pairing is gone now and MacMath has been a strength instead of a weakness. If the team wants to win now they should have probably addressed an actual weakness. Like say the mediocre or worse defense we put out week after week.

  5. Meh….GK is not the problem.

  6. Remember in 2011 when NYRB had 4 GK’s on their roster (Rost, Sutton, Coundol & Horwath) at close to $900k in total salary?

    That was so hilarious…oh right, never mind.

    • James Lockerbie says:

      O.k if it grows to three guys taking up that kind of money, I would hope the staff would write a letter explaining how they were against it. It was all Nick’s fault we the undersigned to not agree with this. I.E. band of brothers N.C.O’s letter not wanting to serve under Capt. Sobel

  7. OneManWolfpack says:

    This is a win now move. It tells me they like the team a lot more than we all seem to. To me it also shows that they (the FO) are acknowledging that Hack, not the roster, was the problem. If it was the roster… wouldn’t they have just told Curtain (the interim manager) to throw it in and play the youth to see why they had? They feel the East is weak, they are scoring goals right now so why not give it a shot. Plus if they do win the US Open Cup they can push that accomplishment (which would still be cool regardless of MLS finish, in my opinion)
    It also sounds to me like they aren’t too keen on trading Blake or MacMath. They talked a lot about a maturation process and how goalies mature late. So they keep MacMath, and loan Blake (or vice versa)… and the one they keep sits a bit and learns from M’Bolhi. It’s not the worse thing in the world. In 3 years, assuming M’Bolhi stays the full length of his deal, MacMath will be 25 and Blake will be 26 (I think I’m right on those ages). That’s not old and they won’t even be in their “prime”, per Sack and Curtain that is.
    My point is that I don’t hate the move. Unless they get a good trade offer for a position of real need, I hope they keep all three guys and make it work with loans and such. It makes them better overall.

    • James Lockerbie says:

      That’s how I see it! For now on I think the only guy on this team that gets the emotional tag is Le toux! Everyone else is tradable if we get the right deal for them. Too many people have emotional connections with too many players.

      We don’t want this team to become the Phillies of soccer. Too many can’t trade guys that are older and not preforming.

      • You sir are a disphit. The Union don’t need a gk. the need a goddamn forward who can score.

      • james lockerbie says:

        The way I see it your blinded by your man crush for Macmath!

      • The comment u commented on didn’t even mention zac macmath’s name… let alone favoring him for an emotional connection.

      • James Lockerbie says:

        O.k. I stated that I agreed with the commenters points and I personally believe a lot of the negative reactions to the new signing. Is based more on emotional connections to individual players and not based on true evaluations of pros/cons of the new player versus the player being traded away.

    • Win now???
      This is the MLS East a squad of 11 corpses has an outside shot of getting into the playoffs. MLS playoffs in an indicator of progress but not anything to brag about per se.

  8. Not Grumpy says:

    Just keep upgrading and good things WILL happen. I like this move. Say what you want but the Union is a better team today then they were yesterday! Jimmy Curtain was spot on when he discussed young goalkeepers and their youthful inconsistency. We don’t have time for that! The East blows. Let’s go for it. No balls, no babies!

  9. I just need someone’s help in figuring out how to pronounce this guy’s name. Can anyone spell it out phonetically?

  10. A lot of you saying you like the move need to consider a few other things:

    They’d have to keep 2 keepers on the 11 man expansion draft protected list.

    At 20 roster players, someone will need to be cut or moved for picks/AM.

    Same with if Valdes returns. If M’Bolhi’s reported purchase price of $670K is true, he’s a DP. Valdes wants DP money. The Union have to buy that 3rd DP spot for $250K.

    There’s no way they have all 3 of these players on roster past the expansion draft. Also, Blake is older than MacMath and was hyped as MLS starting quality now. Think he’s going to wait on loan at HCI? Both Blake and Zac are screaming at their agents now.

    • On the DP front, we don’t keep Edu and isn’t Maidana just a DP this year because of the transfer fee? So there are 2 DP spots.

      • Re: the expansion draft. Blake is GA so I believe he is automatically protected. Then we protect M’Bolhi and trade MacMath before the draft either to another team in MLS or to one of the expansion franchises for allocation money and maybe also draft picks. We can hold all three for the rest of the season but one of them will have to move in the offseason.

      • Scottymac says:

        Yes, but we are in this year.

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