Philadelphia Union

Union Notes: MacMath thriving on penalty kicks

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Union Notes: MacMath thriving on penalty kicks

CHESTER, Pa. – Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath doesn’t like penalty kicks and doesn’t think he’s particularly good at stopping them.

Funny, because that’s all he’s done this season.

In what’s been one of the few bright spots of an otherwise dour start to the year for the Union, MacMath has managed to save all three penalty kicks he’s faced -- a rare achievement for any goalie.

The MLS record for penalty kick saves in a single season? Four.

“I’ve known Zac for a long time and I’ve seen him take a lot of PKs, and this has not been his strong suit as a goalkeeper,” Union manager John Hackworth said. “But the good thing is you kind of see Zac evolving. His game has improved in so many little ways that I think it was natural that with his ability to read and his decision-making that he was going to figure it out.”

MacMath’s latest PK save may have been his best one yet. After Amobi Okugo was whistled for a handball in the box in the first half of the Union's 2-1 loss to the Seattle Sounders, MacMath picked his teammate up with a tremendous diving save on Osvaldo Alonso.

“I know there’s talk from the Seattle camp that it was interesting that Alonso took it,” Hackworth said. “But I don’t care who takes that PK. That’s a well-taken PK. For a 'keeper to save that, with that kind of pace and that kind of placement, that’s pretty impressive.”

MacMath’s first two PK saves came in back-to-back games in early April -- against reigning MVP Mike Magee of the Chicago Fire and Real Salt Lake’s Alvoro Saborio. The one against Magee was especially impressive because he also thwarted the star forward’s rebound attempt to preserve a tie on the final play of the game, leading MacMath to call it “one of the best moments of my career.”

He’s had other great moments too, and after an up-and-down start to his professional career, MacMath seems to be really hitting his stride this season -- his third as a starter.

He may even be the Union’s best player right now.

“We just need to build off performances like Zac’s,” Hackworth said. “He kept us in a game, a really high-level game on Saturday night. It was an excellent save, and he’s had a very good year. We need other guys to feed off him and have those kinds of performances so that collectively as a team we are more consistent.”

Edu to the World Cup?
Ever since he signed with the Union in the offseason, Maurice Edu has been hounded with questions about how returning to MLS could help him in his quest to make the U.S. national team’s World Cup roster.

And while the Union (1-4-5) are struggling, it’s hasn’t been the fault of Edu, who’s been an effective box-to-box midfielder and is tied for the team lead in goals with two.

So will the Union midfielder make U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s preliminary 30-man roster when it’s announced Monday and then make the plane to Brazil after the roster is trimmed down to 23 for the World Cup?

Hackworth doesn’t know for sure but seems to like Edu’s chances.

“That’s not really a question for me to answer,” Hackworth said. “I would give you my opinion though: If there are soccer people out there, in particular Jurgen and his staff, I think they’re pleased with the way Mo is playing.”

Having a Union player represent the U.S. national team in Brazil would be a great thing for Philadelphia, but it would naturally leave the club shorthanded for a few games heading into the league’s World Cup break.

It will also give other players a chance to step in and fill the void left behind by Edu. Hackworth was asked specifically if one of them could be teenager Zach Pfeffer, who has yet to play a minute this season and is coming off a one-year loan to the German club Hoffenheim.

“Pfeffer is certainly a guy that is a possibility,” the Union manager said. “But he has to put himself in a position to be consistently brought into the 18 and to be considered to have his name listed in the [starting] 11 or be one of the three substitutions off the bench. … I’ve seen a lot of good things out of Zach. I hope that translates into him playing some valuable minutes for this team this season.”

Looking for offensive upgrades
Considering a Union player hasn’t scored from the run of play in the last four games, it’s no secret that the Union could use an offensive boost.

Could that boost come in the form of acquiring a new striker?

“The short answer is yes,” Hackworth said. “But I think in the bigger picture we have a group of guys that are capable of playing at this level and being very successful at this level. We aren’t thinking that we have to hit the panic button and do something drastic like bring in someone else.”

Wait, so was that a yes or a no?

Rookie Adam Najem hopes to prove he's the playmaker the Union need

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Rookie Adam Najem hopes to prove he's the playmaker the Union need

CHESTER, Pa. -- Jim Curtin has made it clear he won’t use falling out of playoff contention as a reason to throw the team’s youngest, most untested players into the fire.

But the Union head coach also made clear Adam Najem doesn’t necessarily fall into that category, saying this week the rookie midfielder is “right in the discussion” to see more time regardless of where the team might be in the standings.

For Najem, though, just getting onto the field during Philly’s last 10 games of the 2017 season — starting with Saturday’s road tilt vs. the San Jose Earthquakes — is only a short-term goal. Long term, the 22-year-old New Jersey native hopes to emerge as the kind of attacking midfielder the Union can build their team around — in a role that’s usually been occupied by international imports.

“I want to kind of get rid of the stigma that Americans can’t be playmakers,” Najem said after Thursday’s practice. "And if they give me the opportunity to continue improving at the No. 10, I’ll try to show what I can do.”

The Union have struggled to find a consistently good option at that No. 10 spot — an important position that sits behind the striker (CJ Sapong) and in front of the two other central midfielders (Haris Medunjanin and Alejandro Bedoya). Roland Alberg, a native of the Netherlands, and the Brazilian Ilsinho have both shown occasional flashes of brilliance but not nearly enough consistency, leading to speculation that both could be on their way out when the season ends.

At that point, the Union will likely chase a high-priced player, possibly from South America or Europe, to fill that void, as MLS teams are prone to do. But Najem believes he can be the guy, and that more starts as the season winds down can perhaps prove it.

“For me, I want to cement myself as the No. 10 wherever I am,” he said. “Right now, I feel if I continue improving, that can be here. I want to reward Philly for giving me the opportunity to be here. And I want to be that player they look upon to win games. If I get the opportunity, I have to continue working and show I can be the No. 10 they’re looking for.”

Although most of his game action has been with affiliate Bethlehem Steel FC, where he’s made 14 starts, Najem has seen more MLS minutes of late, playing three straight games last month, including his first career start in Columbus on July 22.

And while he felt like he showed for the ball and maintained possession well in that game, he knows he didn’t do nearly enough to help jumpstart a stagnant offense in a 1-0 loss.

“That’s something I want to improve on,” he said. “It kind of left a sour taste in my mouth.”

Najem knows there are other things he can improve upon, and he’s been trying his best to pick up little lessons from other midfielders on the team. 

Medunjanin’s quality on the ball? Bedoya’s vision and awareness? Alberg’s striking ability? Ilsinho’s dribbling moves? Najem has been paying close attention to all of it.

“The type of player I am, I like to take the best out of everyone around me,” he said. “Everyone brings their own style to the game and you try to pick up anything you can and implement your own style of play into that as well.”

Najem has seemed to do that well in training, where he often looks sharp and in control of short-field scrimmages. But as his rookie season winds down, it could be time for him to take the next step — if he’s given the chance.

“In my position, it’s obviously an important one on the field,” he said. “Being a young guy, you have to learn how to deal with that and deal with the pressures.

“If the coaches see I’m working hard enough or improving enough, I’ll be on the field. And if not, I’ll just continue working.”

Philadelphia one of numerous possible sites for 2026 World Cup matches

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Philadelphia one of numerous possible sites for 2026 World Cup matches

CHICAGO — The committee that is hoping to bring the 2026 World Cup to the United States, Mexico and Canada is seeking bids from 44 cities that may be interested in hosting matches.

The United Bid Committee is considering 49 stadiums in those regions for inclusion in the official bid that will be sent to soccer's international governing body, FIFA, in March.

The committee announced Tuesday that it will review interest and select a short list of possible host cities in September. The bid ultimately sent to FIFA is expected to include up to 25 venues, but it is expected that 12 cities will be designated as official hosts.

The 2026 World Cup will be the first with a 48-team field. Morocco has also declared its intention to bid for the event.

A list of the possible games sites, broken down by market, venue and capacity:

United States:

Atlanta, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, 75,000.

Baltimore, M&T Bank Stadium, 71,008.

Birmingham, Alabama, Legion Field, 71,594.

Boston, Gillette Stadium (Foxboro), 65,892.

Charlotte, North Carolina, Bank of America Stadium, 75,400.

Chicago, Soldier Field, 61,500.

Cincinnati, Paul Brown Stadium, 65,515.

Cleveland, FirstEnergy Stadium, 68,710.

Dallas, Cotton Bowl, 92,100.

Dallas, AT&T Stadium (Arlington), 105,000.

Denver, Sports Authority Field at Mile High, 76,125.

Detroit, Ford Field, 65,000.

Green Bay, Wisconsin, Lambeau Field, 81,441.

Houston, NRG Stadium, 71,500.

Indianapolis, Lucas Oil Stadium, 65,700.

Jacksonville, Florida, EverBank Field, 64,000.

Kansas City, Missouri, Arrowhead Stadium, 76,416.

Las Vegas, Raiders Stadium, 72,000.

Los Angeles, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, 78,500.

Los Angeles, LA Stadium at Hollywood Park (Inglewood), TBD.

Los Angeles, Rose Bowl (Pasadena) 87,527.

Miami, Hard Rock Stadium, 65,767.

Minneapolis, U.S. Bank Stadium, 63,000.

Nashville, Nissan Stadium, 69,143.

New Orleans, Mercedes-Benz Superdome, 72,000.

New York/New Jersey, MetLife Stadium (East Rutherford), 82,500.

Orlando, Florida, Camping World Stadium, 65,000.

Philadelphia, Lincoln Financial Field, 69,328.

Phoenix, University of Phoenix Stadium (Glendale), 73,000.

Pittsburgh, Heinz Field, 68,400.

Salt Lake City, Rice-Eccles Stadium, 45,807.

San Antonio, Alamodome, 72,000.

San Diego, Qualcomm Stadium, 71,500.

San Francisco/San Jose, Levi's Stadium (Santa Clara), 75,000.

Seattle, CenturyLink Field, 69,000.

Tampa, Florida, Raymond James Stadium, 73,309.

Washington, DC, FedEx Field (Landover), 82,000.

Canada:

Calgary, Alberta, McMahon Stadium, 35,650.

Edmonton, Alberta, Commonwealth Stadium, 56,335.

Montreal, Quebec, Stade Olympique , 61,004.

Montreal, Quebec, Stade Saputo, 20,801.

Ottawa, Ontario, TD Place Stadium, 24,341.

Regina, Saskatchewan, Mosaic Stadium, 30,048.

Toronto, Ontario, Rogers Centre, 53,506.

Toronto, Ontario, BMO Field, 28,026.

Vancouver, British Columbia, BC Place, 55,165.

Mexico:

Guadalajara, Jalisco, Estadio Chivas, 45,364.

Mexico City, Estadio Azteca, 87,000.

Monterrey, Nuevo Le?n, Estadio Rayados, 52,237.