(Published in The Philly Soccer Page on Feb. 13, 2012.)
This might sound familiar.
Going into opening day, Philadelphia Union’s presumptive starting goalkeeper is a former University of Maryland All-American, U.S. youth international and top five draft pick. He was coached by Union goalkeeper coach Rob Vartughian in college and apprenticed to a top veteran goalkeeper in the pros. He played well last year in limited duty but has never been a regular starter at the professional level, with just seven career starts in Major League Soccer. His backups have even less top-level experience than him.
Considering the preceding paragraph could have been written in 2010 about former Union goalkeeper Chris Seitz or today about current backstop Zac MacMath — right down to the seven career MLS starts going into their first Union opening day — it’s hard not to think of the oft-paraphrased George Santayana quote: Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
The similarities between Seitz and MacMath are so striking it’s nearly impossible to avoid comparisons in an honest assessment of the Union’s goalkeeper situation. When Union manager Peter Nowak said last week, “Why do I need to bring in a veteran?” thousands of Union fans with post-traumatic stress symptoms from 2010 probably had an easy answer as they thought, “Oh no, not again.”
But for all the similarities between MacMath and Seitz, there are significant differences that could put MacMath in position to perform far better in 2012 than Seitz did in 2010.
- Unlike Seitz, MacMath has a settled defense in front of him.
In 2010, the Union cycled through starting back lines like they were changing socks. Michael Orozco Fiscal and Cristian Arrieta ping-ponged between center back and right back, complimented by a dose of Juan Diego Gonzalez, and the defensive midfielder role was anything but settled.
In 2012, the Union have one of the league’s best back lines, and it’s fronted by Brian Carroll, as good a defensive presence as any center midfielder in MLS.
- MacMath has actually played with his teammates before.
Everyone on that 2010 team was new to playing with each other. A lack of chemistry is not good for a goalkeeper.
Today, the Union’s back six don’t have that problem. The only change is the addition of left back Porfirio Lopez. The chemistry and understanding between players are already there.
- MacMath has an off-field support network that Seitz never had.
Off the field, MacMath has had a year to orientate himself to the Philadelphia area. His father grew up in Philadelphia and played goalkeeper at Frankford High School, and MacMath still has family in the region. Family members come to see his games, and he has an available family social network that Seitz never had.
- Seitz is built like a linebacker. MacMath is built like a soccer player.
Seitz is a hulking figure at 6-3 and over 230 pounds. MacMath stands just six feet tall, but he’s quick and lanky. Their goalkeeping styles are very different.
Bottom line: MacMath comes into this season with advantages Seitz didn’t have.
Still, he’s so young: At 20, he’s three years younger than Seitz was in 2010.
Seitz didn’t join the Union as a bad goalkeeper either. In 2009, he posted a 72 percent save rate in four starts for Real Salt Lake and had made the 2008 Olympic team, something MacMath could do this year.
But after several rough starts for the Union, Seitz lost his confidence, and the once-promising goalkeeper has yet to show he’ll recover from that.
That’s the risk in starting MacMath in goal this season.
The reward could be the emergence of one of the next wave of great American goalkeepers. Then again, that could have also happened if MacMath took over in 2013.