In part because the Philadelphia Union had been giving up very few shots compared to other teams in MLS, goalkeeper Zac MacMath had a relatively quiet first two months of the season.
That changed Saturday in Chicago.
With the Union integrating two new starters into their backline, the Union gave up a slew of good scoring chances. But MacMath bailed his teammates out by playing perhaps the best game of his career, leading the Union to a 1-0 victory over the Fire in a game in which they were largely outplayed.
Let’s take a closer look at MacMath’s big-time performance and more in this week’s “Inside Doop.”
Three thoughts on Saturday’s game
1. MacMath has had his fair share of critics since becoming the Union’s full-time starter last season, but few people have ever criticized his shot-stopping abilities. Against the Fire on Saturday, the goalie showed off those skills with some huge diving saves, including one in the final minute of the game. On top of that, he also seemed to have a lot more confidence dealing with crosses and balls in the air, which has been one of his weaknesses since turning pro. It’s important to remember he’s only 21 years old and still has plenty of time to blossom into a star; Saturday’s game could be one of the first steps.
2. It was a lot to ask for Bakary Soumare and Gabriel Farfan to fill in for starters Jeff Parke (hamstring) and Sheanon Williams (suspension) on the backline, especially in windy conditions on the road. But thanks to some timely help from MacMath, the Union defense was able to lead the team to its first shutout since mid-March. And Soumare had some nice clearances in what was his first game of the season and second ever in a Union uniform.
3. Well, look who leads the league in scoring again. After failing to find the back of the net in his last two games, Jack McInerney netted his seventh goal of the season to put him one ahead of three other players in the race for the MLS Golden Boot. The goal came after second-half sub Sebastien Le Toux played a perfect over-the-top ball on a quick restart, which McInerney was able to settle and slide past Chicago goalie Sean Johnson. It was one of only two shots the Union put on target, but as McInerney said afterwards, “All I need is one or two chances a game.” Sounds like a confident goal-scorer, huh?
Three questions for the week ahead
1. Starting the week off with three points is huge for the Union because the next few days are going to be pretty crazy. First, they host the two-time defending champion Galaxy on Wednesday at PPL Park. Then, they have to deal with playing the same Chicago team, this time at home, on Saturday. Can the Union defend their home turf in both of those contests to move to 3-0 on the week? That would be the kind of stretch that could really jumpstart a season.
2. One player to keep an eye on this week is Parke, who hurt his hamstring last week against Seattle and didn’t make the trip to Chicago. He’ll probably be questionable for Wednesday’s game but the Union could certainly use him against the star-studded Galaxy – especially if Robbie Keane returns from an ankle injury. Keane, one of the league’s most celebrated players, trained with the Galaxy on Monday in Philly after sitting out the past three games.
3. Union manager John Hackworth has noted that he’ll need to dig into his bench with the team playing three times in a week. Who will he call upon? Will this finally be the week Kléberson gets some extended time? Despite being the team’s highest paid player, the Brazilian hasn’t played at all in the last two games and has played only 29 minutes total in the six games since being acquired on loan.
Stat of the week
Sébastien Le Toux has more goals and assists per minute this season (one in every 120.5 minutes) than he did during his first two years in Philly in 2010 and 2011 (one in every 124 minutes) when he was lauded as the team’s best player. Now the Frenchman is playing much less – but still producing.
Quote of the week
“I don’t want to sound cocky, but no I’m not. He’s an excellent goal scorer. He’s developing, and we saw last year that he was capable of this kind of season.” – Union manager John Hackworth when asked Saturday if he’s surprised by McInerney’s early-season production
Player of the week
MacMath is the clear choice here. His six saves Saturday were the second most of his MLS career and the most in a winning effort.