McCarthy vs NYC

Soccer is a fun sport to watch. When most people are asked what their favorite part is, they either say dribbling or shooting.

Why? Because those are the most exciting things that happen on a soccer field. Who doesn’t like a well-timed Maradona or a rainbow flick over a defender? And what about a well-struck free kick or a masterful bicycle kick?

But when we watch these amazing displays of skill and athleticism, we can often forget about what is arguably the most important position on the pitch, the goalkeeper.

Being a goalkeeper requires a special kind of athlete. Someone who can jump to the far reaches of the goal while also making reflex saves when the ball is hit hard from six yards out.

John McCarthy is one of those special athletes. He’s the guy who trains to be a brick wall in case his defense breaks down in front of him.


McCarthy’s journey to be a goalkeeper started when he was just a kid, and unlike a lot of goalies, he opted to play goal at a young age rather than being forced into the position.

“When I was seven or eight, I decided to play goalkeeper for the first time,” said McCarthy. “My coach kind of threw it out on the table, asking if anyone wanted to play goalie, and I figured, ‘Sure, why not? Might as well give it a try.’”

After those first few games as a goalkeeper, McCarthy fell in love with the position. He became a full-time keeper at an age when most kids were still trying to figure out how to juggle the ball with their feet.

McCarthy continued to play the position for his club teams, and ultimately into high school as well, where he started to realize that he might be better than most other goalkeepers his age.

“After my sophomore year of high school, I kind of felt like my game changed a little bit,” McCarthy said. “I felt like I took another step. I was growing at the time so everything was kind of falling into place.”

A Philadelphia native, McCarthy continued to star at North Catholic High School before committing to La Salle University in January of his senior year.

“I got to La Salle as a freshman, and when I got there, two other goalies were on the roster,” said McCarthy. “I didn’t start right away, I didn’t start the first two games of the season, but after that I played just about every game for the rest of my college career except when I was injured or we played in a senior’s hometown.”

McCarthy and his teammates brought with them a wave of success, bringing La Salle multiple winning seasons and other accolades. While playing at La Salle, he played club soccer for the Ocean City Nor’easters and Reading United, the Union’s player development affiliate.
McCarthy also received multiple awards during his time at La Salle, including being a three-time All-Atlantic 10 performer, an NSCAA Scholar All-American and being named to the MAC Hermann Trophy watch list heading into his senior year. McCarthy also holds the all-time school records for games started as a goalie (74), saves (468), and shutouts (28).

While at La Salle, he was always focused on the upcoming season and doing all he could to get ready for it, but as early as his freshman year, he knew he wanted to go pro.

“I remember in my freshman year telling my academic advisor that I wanted to play professional soccer,” said McCarthy. “It was always my goal to go pro and if it didn’t work out then I would figure everything out then.”


As soon as the A-10 Tournament ended, McCarthy started to send his highlight tape out to everyone professional soccer team in the United States, regardless of the league.

“I started to email coaches left and right,” McCarthy said. “USL coaches, NASL coaches, MLS coaches, anyone I could reach. I got a lot of responses, got a couple invites to tryouts, there was a lot of interest so that is kind of all I did for four or five days straight.”

Seattle Sounders FC was the first team that reached out to him so McCarthy went out for a combine with them, then flew back and did a combine with Rochester Rhinos who offered him a contract just two days later. After a discussion with the coaching staff in Rochester, McCarthy flew out to Seattle for their preseason but ended up breaking a finger and not making the final roster.

“The whole time I was out in Seattle, the coaches from Rochester were in touch, checking in on me and seeing how things were going,” said McCarthy. “I was lucky that they were still willing offer me a contract even with my injury.”

After he recovered from his broken finger, McCarthy was immediately thrust into the rotation for starting goalkeeper, initially playing every other game. After the halfway point in the season, he started to receive more games than the other goalkeepers, often playing two or three in a row and then sat for one, and then played another two of three before sitting again. McCarthy played so well that he was named the USL Rookie of the Year and the USL Goalkeeper of the Year, only allowing 0.72 goals per game.

After suffering a shoulder injury at the end of the Rochester season, McCarthy opted to lay low for a while and recover. Prior to the injury, there was interest from multiple MLS teams, including the Philadelphia Union.

“I’ve always known the Union coaching staff so they reached out to me and told me that they had a lot of interest in me, and they used a discovery pick on me so I was tied to them,” McCarthy said. “I was really happy to come to Philadelphia and be able to stay home.”

McCarthy was then offered a contract in the preseason, making the roster as the third goalkeeper. After a bad start to the season and a series of injuries, McCarthy ended up being the starting goalkeeper for the Union, making his first official start on April 11 against New York City FC.

“When Curtin came up and told me that I would be starting against NYCFC, I cheesed a little bit,” said McCarthy, laughing. “I thanked him for the opportunity and he told me to just keep doing what I’m doing.”
After that first game against NYCFC, McCarthy started the next four games, and would likely have started the next few games as well had he not gotten a concussion in practice.

Now fully fit, McCarthy started in goal against Reading United earlier this week, posting a shutout in a 1-0 win. With the U.S. Open Cup game coming up on Tuesday, and with current starting goalkeeper Brain Sylvestre already cup-tied to the Carolina Railhawks, McCarthy has the possibility of starting against his former team, the Rochester Rhinos.

“My mindset is that everyday when you train, whether you’re the first string starter or the third string guy, you have to be ready, because you never know,” McCarthy said. “You always have to be ready and always one your toes so that when your chance does come, you’re not surprised and you’re not shocked. If you’re mentally prepare and you work hard, and you try to better than you were the day before then that’s all I can ask for.”
Contact Union writer Kyle Basedow at kbasedow@philadelphiaunion.com.