MacMath al­ways ready to res­cue Rapids

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Ben­jamin Arthur

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.”

Andy Cross, The Den­ver Post

Rapids goal­keeper Zac MacMath is de­ter­mined to be­come a full-time starter in MLS. “I con­tinue to get bet­ter each year,” he says.

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