Zac MacMath got some great advice on one of the most important days of his life.
When Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber uttered his name and his selection by the Philadelphia Union, MacMath didn’t immediately thank his parents. He didn’t thank his friends or other family. That came later.
He first thanked the Sons of Ben.
Very, very smart.
“Hey, I wanted to win over the fans,” MacMath said at the MLS SuperDraft Thursday afternoon at the Baltimore Convention Center. “My father gave me the advice to do this. He knows Philly. He was right.”
The 19-year-old goalkeeper from the University of Maryland received a loud ovation from hundreds of his newest supporters. The SOBs chanted his name and he high-fived a number of those passionate fans.
For MacMath, this is a perfect marriage as a rookie in MLS.
His family has deep Philadelphia roots. His father, Gary, is a graduate of Frankford High School in Philadelphia. His aunt lives in nearby Valley Forge. There are friends scattered throughout the Philadelphia area.
WATCH: Nowak on MacMath
“This is a very special situation for me,” MacMath said. “I’m very happy to be getting started in Philadelphia. I have a lot of friends here and my dad went to high school in the city. I’ve been to Eagles games and Phillies games. It’s an honor to start my career in Philadelphia. I’ve wanted to play professional soccer. To do it in Philadelphia is an honor and something I can’t wait to get started.”
MacMath played three sensational seasons for the Terrapins, racking up a 51-10-3 record and 0.65 goals against average and 186 career saves. He was a first team All-ACC selection as well as the ACC Tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
Forget the statistics and awards for a moment. When you make the jump from the NCAA to MLS, there’s a quick learning curve and a mental toughness you must possess.
Ask his college coach, Sasho Cirovski, and there’s absolutely no doubt about MacMath’s makeup.
“He’s only 19 years old, and he’s a very, very, very good goalkeeper, one who’s going to be a starter in a short amount of time,” said Cirovski, the longtime Maryland coach. “He’s got a great head for the game and he’s very smart. He has the courage you need back there in goal, and he understands what’s needed to succeed. He’s got the mental ability to be able to work with older players who are in their 30s. He’ll earn their trust and respect because of how he goes about his business. I have so much confidence in Zac and I feel he will be an impact player in this league.”
Going from a start at Maryland to a potential starter in MLS is quite a difficult task. But it’s one MacMath is preparing for.
Between highly-anticipated college games and US youth national team play, he has certainly featured in pressure-packed situations.
This is simply another step.
“I like the pressure,” MacMath said. “You want to start and be there in the middle of the action. One of my close friends is Amobi Okugo and we talked about Philadelphia. I know what the pressure is like there and I welcome that. I just have to go work and get ready for preseason and training. I’m a hard worker and anything they ask me to do, I’ll do. I’m just excited to be going to Philadelphia and joining a great organization.”
As the SuperDraft approaches, the players don’t know exactly where they will wind up. As of Wednesday night, Seattle was in the mix along with Philadelphia and a couple of other clubs. MacMath and his agent would talk often and no club seemed to be 100 percent settled with their pick.
As early as an hour before the SuperDraft, MacMath still wasn’t sure.
Was he nervous?
“It’s funny because when I woke up (Thursday), I was more worried about my speech because I didn’t want to leave anyone out,” MacMath said. “I was more nervous for this than I am for a game. I’m just so relieved I was picked and to go to Philadelphia is great. I’m very excited about what’s coming up for me.”
MacMath will head back to College Park, MD, for one final exam. Then it’s time to pack and drive back down I-95 for his career in MLS.
“It’s a dream,” MacMath said. “I know I keep saying that, but it’s true. I’ve always wanted this.”