Confidence high for MacMath in second MLS season
When Zac MacMath entered Major League Soccer as the fifth overall pick in the 2011 SuperDraft, he wasn’t sure what to expect.
Now, he expects anything. Check that – everything.
In just a season-and-a-half with the Philadelphia Union, the talented goalkeeper has experienced a plethora of events. It has made MacMath stronger in so many ways, especially mentally.
“Yeah, absolutely, I can’t believe I’m still only 21 and I’ve seen a bunch of players and coaches in the league and a lot of guys here are older and have been here longer and haven’t seen some of it,” MacMath told philadelphiaunion.com after a recent training session. “I just try to take away something from every experience and learn from it and move on. It’s definitely not what I expected. Any player’s dream is to be the starter for their team, and to be the starter in my second year is an unbelievable experience for me and something I’m trying to hold onto.
“I’ve learned so much from each experience and I think it has helped me get stronger.”
When MacMath arrived here, he expected to learn from captain Faryd Mondragon. He did just that.
But then Mondragon broke his finger on Sept. 3 and MacMath was thrust into the starter’s role, where he impressed by going 3-0-4 in seven starts.
Following Mondragon’s departure in the offseason, MacMath was named the starter in 2012. Then came a pair of concussions.
MacMath had never endured a serious injury in his life, and suddenly he was forced off the field to recover.
Watching and waiting was difficult, but he’s past the setback.
“Yeah, it definitely made me stronger mentally and I’m definitely over the hill with it,” MacMath said. “It’s obviously not a problem. I’m feeling really good and confident in goal. I think it was a difficult thing to go through, but I’m better off mentally for having gone through it.”
MacMath has had some ups and downs this season, but he seems to have regained his form from a season ago. Heading into Sunday’s showdown against the Chicago Fire, MacMath is looking to build on his five shutouts.
That’s always his main goal, to shut down the opposition.
“I would definitely say I’m feeling better every day,” MacMath said. “My confidence is high and it’s growing every game. That’s something I’ve tried to keep at the same level throughout the season. I trust the guys in front of me, and I’m confident in my ability. I think when you have good performances consistently, you can build on it and it can carry over game by game.”
Assistant coach Rob Vartughian works on a daily basis with the goalkeepers and has been very pleased with MacMath’s progress.
“He’ll be the first to tell you, there’s a lot of room for improvement,” Vartughian said. “Where he is, we’re really happy. There’s no substitute for games than experience. You need to be in there and be a part of those games. To have that experience now is a major benefit and I think you’ll see even more of it in the future.
“We’re very excited about Zac and where he can go. Looking at him and what he has been through, we couldn’t be happier.”
The MLS season is a marathon and learning how to balance the mental and physical challenge is quite difficult.
Off the field, MacMath centers himself by taking online business administration classes at Penn State University.
“I’m going to try to be done by next December but it might carry over,” MacMath said. “It’s something to get away from the game, kind of being back in college again and having something else to focus on. At times, it’s good and at times, it’s a pain. But I think it does help me focus away from the field. It’s something that’s important to me.”
So is thriving on the field.
And having battled through so many obstacles in such a short amount of time has made his ascent to starter that much more worthwhile.
“Coming into the league, you don’t know what to expect,” MacMath said. “I think going through as much as I have has made me stronger. I’m excited for the rest of the season and we’re going to keep grinding to compile points. I’m going to do everything I can to help us win as much as possible.”