Zac MacMath just oozes “goalkeeper.”
The 19-year-old’s demeanor, from the way he walks to the way he carries a conversation, exudes a steely confidence necessary for any netminder.
Philadelphia Union’s first round pick in the 2011 SuperDraft (fifth overall) is being groomed behind Faryd Mondragón to be the club’s future starter. In fact, the Union are so confident in the youngster’s ability that they released Brad Knighton on Tuesday, who many presumed to be the club’s number two for the upcoming 2011 campaign.
A week into his first MLS preseason, MacMath is making a quick transition into the pro ranks.
“It’s going well,” the University of Maryland product told philadelphiaunion.com. “I’m just trying to get integrated with the team and try to get to know the guys a little bit more. I think everybody is feeling good and looking forward to getting down to Orlando.”
Prior to the draft, MacMath was vocal about his desire to play sooner rather than later. Fellow Maryland alumnus and former Union goalkeeper Chris Seitz appeared to suffer from three years of inactivity behind Nick Rimando in Salt Lake, failing to meet expectations in Philadelphia.
MacMath, though, has a few factors working in his favor.
Most importantly, the return of the MLS Reserve Division will afford MacMath up to ten matches this season to stay sharp. Together with friendlies and Philadelphia’s ability to send players to the Harrisburg City Islanders for additional seasoning, the technical staff should be able to find plenty of time for the St. Petersburg, Fl. native.
MacMath’s standing as the first choice option for the U-20 US national team will also benefit his progression. The U-20 World Cup is set for July 29-August 20 in Colombia, offering MacMath a tremendous opportunity to play meaningful matches in a high-pressure environment.
Then there’s Mondragón’s age. At 39, the veteran goalkeeper won’t play forever, even though it’s common for ‘keepers to play into their forties. Two years as Philadelphia’s starter is a reasonable prediction and would make sense as a transition period from Mondragón to MacMath. In all likelihood, the Union technical staff would not have drafted MacMath so high if they expected Mondragón to stick around for much longer.
In the meantime, MacMath can soak up as much knowledge as possible from one of the world’s most experienced goalkeepers.
“He can teach me everything,” MacMath said. “I mean, in the first couple days he has helped me out without goalkeeper stuff and telling me stories from his career. I have also been helping him a little bit with his English and trying to get him used to American society.”
Perhaps more so than formal teaching, watching Mondragon in action will do wonders for MacMath. As will training with the first team at a pace MacMath has never experienced previously.
“Definitely the jump from college to the pros is a big difference,” he said. “Just the speed of play, the physicality, and also the shot speed. We had finishing drills the other day and it was definitely a change of pace for me. It is just going to take some time to get used to.”
Judging by his form during the first week of preseason training, it won’t take long for MacMath to feel fully comfortable. There is always a learning curve for first-year players, especially goalkeepers, but MacMath is mature beyond his years.
“I’m just trying to get experience,” MacMath said when asked about his rookie season goals. “I am obviously going to learn a lot from “Mondy” and I am going to take in all I can get from him. If I get the opportunity to play a few games, I will obviously take those and try to do my best with them. Hopefully I can get (to play in) most of the reserve games and get as many games as I can under my belt and take those into my second year.”
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