It has been quite the whirlwind 2011 for Zac MacMath.
Yet he also knows the journey is just beginning.
The rookie Union goalkeeper was the fifth overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft from the University of Maryland. He packed up and made the short drive up Interstate-95 to get acclimated to his new surroundings.
Then there was preseason training in Florida, an excursion to Greece for more training and eventually a trip to Guatemala with the U-20 U.S. National Team, where MacMath allowed only two goals in three CONCACAF U-20 Championship matches. Unfortunately for the U.S., both goals came in a 2-1 loss to Guatemala in an all-important quarterfinal match, meaning MacMath, Amobi Okugo, and the U-20's will miss out on the World Cup this summer.
Still, it was a tremendous experience for MacMath, who has been all over the world and back again in a matter of months.
“I am finally getting settled,” MacMath said after a recent training session at the YSC Sports Complex. “I have had a lot going on in terms of travel since January, that’s for sure. I feel like I’m back now and I’m starting to learn the area better. I have family here in the Philadelphia area, so it’s not completely new. But it has been tough being all over and not really being here. I’m getting more and more comfortable now.”
The 19-year-old MacMath was a First-Team All-ACC selection at Maryland last season and was named to the TopDrawerSoccer.com National Team of the Year - First Team. MacMath was also named the ACC Tournament's Most Valuable Player after shutting out Virginia in the semifinals and top-seeded North Carolina in the championship match. He started all 23 matches for the Terrapins while posting a 0.64 goals against average with 69 saves, securing a Maryland program-record 15 shutouts.
Last July, MacMath started for the U.S. U-20 squad during their championship run at the MILK Cup in Northern Ireland. He also trained informally for one week alongside World Cup goalkeeper Tim Howard at English Premier League club Everton in August.
Through the preseason training and the first seven matches of the regular season, he has gained valuable experience playing behind Faryd Mondragón, who has already posted four shutouts while allowing just three goals.
“Faryd and I have a very good relationship,” MacMath said. “I knew coming in that Faryd was the No. 1 goalkeeper. I come to training every day and do the very best I can and prepare like I’m going to play. Faryd has been great. He texted me while I was in Guatemala. He’s a great leader and I really admire how he approaches the game. For me, I know I have to be ready because you never know in this league. I’m waiting patiently for my time, and I’ll be ready when they call my name.”
MacMath played three seasons at Maryland and compiled a 51-10-3 record, 0.65 goals against average and 186 career saves.
Competing in MLS is a whole different story, and MacMath understands challenge.
“You can see it in training,” MacMath said. “The players are bigger, stronger and the shots come in harder. I think every day that I have improved and learned something. It’s a matter of getting better every day. I’m very confident in my ability. I think it’s a matter of waiting for that chance. I want to play. I think every player would tell you that. I’m a team guy and I support all my teammates. These guys here have been so great since I joined the team. I’m very excited about the future here.”
Having deep Philadelphia roots certainly doesn't hurt. MacMath’s father, Gary, is a graduate of Frankford High School in Philadelphia. His aunt lives in nearby Valley Forge, and there are friends scattered throughout the area.
But more than anything, it will be nice to be settled in one place for a while.
“I have been everywhere in a short amount of time,” MacMath said. “The experience I have gained has been so helpful. I plan to go to training every day and learn as much as possible. I’m excited for the rest of this season and what lies ahead after that. This is a great organization and I’m very thankful to be a part of it.”