MacMath always ready to rescue Rapids
When Timmy is away, COMMERCE CITY» Zac gets to play.
During the three-game span in April when goalkeeper Tim Howard was suspended, Zac MacMath was a starter for the Rapids. He was back on the pitch in June for a game when Howard was called away for international duty. And he patrolled the net for Colorado in Saturday’s 1-1 draw against Toronto FC while Howard was with the U.S. national team for CONCACAF Gold Cup competition.
MacMath gets at least one more start in goal for now, as head coach Pablo Mastroeni told The Denver Post on Thursday that Howard will rest when the Rapids face the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday. Team USA capped its Gold Cup run with a 2-1 victory over Jamaica in the championship match Wednesday.
“I obviously want to start every game I can, whether Timmy is here or not,” MacMath said. “When he’s here, he’s the starter for this team. He’s the captain. I’m just here to fill in when I can and do my best when I play.”
It sounds like what you’d expect: the trusty backup ready to fill in at a moment’s notice; the second option saying he’s up to the challenge of replacing the starter.
But MacMath’s case is different. He would be a starter on most MLS teams. Statistically, he was the league’s best goalkeeper last year and had one of the best seasons for a goalie in Rapids history. His 0.76 goals-against average in 2016 set a franchise record. The Rapids went 9-3-5 (.676 winning percentage) with MacMath in the net, which ranks second all time among Rapids goalkeepers. The record — .769, by Marcus Hahnemann — was set in 1999, when ties
weren’t allowed to count.
MacMath lost his starting job when Howard, arguably the greatest American goalkeeper of all time, arrived in Commerce City last year. Now, MacMath finds himself again an understudy — a role that has become commonplace in his professional career.
“At this point, I’ve been answering (the goalkeeping situation) for a few years now,” MacMath said. “It doesn’t bother me. It continues to motivate me every day in hopes that one day I’ll be the No. 1 starter.”
Before joining the pros, MacMath always heard his name called.
He was a Parade All-America goalkeeper as a junior at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., and played for the U.S. U-17 national team at the 2007 FIFA World Cup. The next year, as a college freshman, he was the starting goalie for a Maryland Terrapins squad that won the NCAA championship.
In the 2011 MLS Super-Draft, the Philadelphia Union selected MacMath with the fifth pick, a pick that usually warrants significant playing time right away. But he started his career as a backup. After appearing in only eight games as a rookie, he got the starting nod for the majority — not all — of the Union’s next three seasons.
In his third season with the club, his future turned doubtful. Philadelphia used the first pick in the 2014 MLS draft to select goalie Andre Blake. And although he won the No. 1 job for most of that season, MacMath was relegated back to a second option when the Union picked up Algeria’s Rais Mbolhi.
In January 2015, Philadelphia loaned him to Colorado, where he became the backup to Clint Irwin. In 2016, after Colorado shipped Irwin to Toronto, MacMath was a starter again. He was in goal for the first 16 games of that season and posted six shutouts. Then came Howard.
MacMath told The Denver Post last August that he wanted to be transferred to a club where he could be a starter. Now he says he is happy to be with the Rapids — but wants to take his situation one offseason at a time.
MacMath shared Rapids MVP honors with Howard last year but posted a better goals-against average than Howard — 0.76 to 1.12. Each played in 17 games.
In 2017, MacMath again has a better goals-against average, although Howard has played in more than twice the number of games: 1.17 goals-against average in six games for MacMath and 1.61 in 13 games for Howard.
“(The goalie) position is kind of like quarterback,” said Rapids defender Bobby Burling, a close friend of MacMath’s. “One player competing for one spot, and obviously with a guy of Tim’s caliber, his career and résumé speak for itself.
“Zac wasn’t pleased with being a second-string goalie, if you will. At the same time, he’s taken the role really well.”
In his six MLS starts this season, MacMath hasn’t had the same success in the win-loss column as a year ago. He is 2-3-1.
But he has shown glimpses of the promise that made him one of the best goalies in MLS. In back-to-back weeks in April, he won the MLS save of the week award. And, Burling said, MacMath — like Howard — communicates well with the Rapids’ back line during a game.
MacMath posted three saves against Toronto FC last weekend. He has a total of 17 saves this season, and one clean sheet.
“We’re confident in that when we do miss Tim on international duty or injury or suspension or whatever happens in soccer, Zac is a capable and willing goalie,” Burling said. “His development over the past two years speaks for itself.”
MacMath’s time is winding down — again. Howard probably will be back in the net when the Rapids face Vancouver on Aug. 5. But he will keep competing to someday achieve the status of starting goalie on a fulltime basis.
“I’ve had a little bit of a roller-coaster career,” MacMath said. “I’ve ended up in a second position on most teams I’ve been on for whatever reason, whereas they might not have been the most fair situations. I continue to get better each year and, hopefully, land a No. 1 spot for the foreseeable future.”
Rapids goalkeeper Zac MacMath is determined to become a full-time starter in MLS. “I continue to get better each year,” he says.