In my season preview, I said this about Zac MacMath:
It’s put up or shut up time for MacMath. ... MacMath is immensely talented and amazingly athletic, but from where I sit, it’s time for the 21-year-old, former first-round pick to put the team on his back and win a few games on his own this season.
Well, that happened on Saturday.
MacMath was off the charts in the Union's 1-0 win in Chicago last weekend. None of his six official saves were better than this one in the final 30 seconds.
[nbcsports_video src=http://p.mlssoccer.com/SAu5a/video/1724404/mls_2013-05-11-155204.640hq.mp4 service=mlssoccer width=590 height=332]
No one has ever questioned MacMath's athleticism. But his decision-making is questionable at best and wildly inconsistent at worst. If he can put it together and play like he did Saturday, this team could go far.
[RELATED: Landon Donovan has high praise for Jack Mac]
For the first time this season, someone other than Jack McInerney was the star of a Union win. So with Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane and the LA Galaxy coming to PPL Park tonight -- likely meaning plenty of chances for MacMath to save the Union's bacon -- it's a perfect time for the casual fans to learn a little more about Mr. MacMath (a trend we'll continue occasionally throughout the season).
How He Got Here: MacMath -- a star at the University of Maryland -- was the fifth overall pick in the 2011 MLS Draft, the Union's second-ever draft. He is the only goalkeeper drafted in the first round since 2009 (Stefan Frei, Toronto), and one of just 11 goalies ever taken in the first round since the league began drafting college players in 1996. Only three goalies have ever been picked higher: Former Union player Chris Seitz (4th by Salt Lake in 2007), budding English Premier League star Brad Guzan (2nd by Chivas in 2005) and Adin Brown (3rd by Colorado in 2000).
Why Fans Love Him: The 21-year-old MacMath is incredibly athletic. He has incredible reflexes and his six-foot frame can reach all four corners of the net.
Why Fans Are Frustrated By Him: Expectations, plain and simple. The Union spent a high pick on MacMath, and gave him an experienced veteran to learn from in fan favorite Faryd Mondragon. His name was mentioned as the next in a long line of American goalkeepers -- the one position where the United States stands out in the soccer world.
He seems to doubt himself at times, come out on balls when he shouldn't, and stay on his line when he should be more aggressive. In the last home game against Seattle, he made two saves while STANDING INSIDE HIS OWN NET -- one which resulted in a goal and one that he got away with. This only served to illustrated his sometimes-shaky sense of control over his own penalty area -- something Mondragon excelled in.
That's another thing working against MacMath's perception among Union fans: Faryd Mondragon. The Colombian was a fan favorite during his one season in 2011, and has an INCREDIBLE command over his penalty area and defenders. He was constantly barking out instructions, consoling defenders after mistakes, and constantly teaching and directing his teammates. MacMath needs to remember some of the lessons he learned from Mondragon and realize this is his ship now.
You Know He'll Have a Good Night: When he makes a big save early, like he did on Saturday. MacMath then seems engaged and in control, and more aggressive coming off his line.
Union Highlight: In my opinion, Saturday's game against Chicago was MacMath's best game as a Union player. He also saved a penalty kick in a crazy 1-1 draw against DC United last year.
Where Does He Go From Here: Based on his age and athleticism, MacMath still could be a top goalkeeper in this league, and eventually parlay that into a European career, should he so choose. But he has a long way to go on the consistency and confidence front. For now, he needs to be someone that Union fans don't need to worry about on a game-by-game basis.
* * *
Philadelphia Union (4-3-2, 15 points) vs. LA Galaxy (4-3-2, 14 points)
7:30 p.m. -- PPL Park -- TV: Comcast SportsNet
Prediction Sure To Be Way Off:
The Union seem to be finding their way, and Jack McInerney is hotter than any forward in the world not named Lewandowski. And the Galaxy are still finding their way with Landon Donovan back from his self-imposed vacation (another post for another day). But LA is still LA. The Union will get one early and sneak in another. But they'll struggle to hold the lead, before giving it up and settling for a draw.
Union 2, Galaxy 2.