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?