PORTLAND, Ore. – The spotlight will shine brightly upon goalkeeper Zac MacMath when he takes the field for the Philadelphia Union tonight.
It would be hard to replace Faryd Mondragón in any team. But MacMath must also do so on in a city with a history of chewing up and spitting out netminders who don't live up to expectations.
I chatted with MacMath on Sunday evening as he prepared to step between the sticks at JELD-Wen Field in the Union's season opener against the Timbers.
Talk about stepping up into the No. 1 goalkeeping position this year. You got a month in the role last year when Faryd Mondragón got hurt, but talk about truly having the No. 1 position be yours now.
It's good. I've spent the last two months during the preseason being the No. 1, and knowing I was the No. 1. It's just getting used to being the No. 1 out there, and boosting confidence.
Has it been unsettling at all as people have wondered who your backup is? Obviously Chase Harrison and Chris Konopka have been in the camp, but it's not nearly as stable a situation as last season, when you backed up Mondragón.
I think it's more settled than people have seen. I can't speak for the coaches but I think the three of us together, with Rob [Vartughian, the team's goalkeeping coach] have a really good relationship. We have a good goalkeeper corps and we all work really well together.
Talk about the back line in front of you. Danny Califf really played well last year, stepping up from 2010, and Carlos Valdés played well too. But a lot of people have struggled in their second seasons in MLS. So talk about your rapport with your back line, and where things are now.
I think everyone's ready. Between Sheanon [Williams], Carlos, Danny and Porfirio [Lopez] – and Gabe, who has been in the league as well – everyone has professional experience, and I think they're all ready for this season.
What have you made of Lopez so far?
He's good, He's a natural left back. I'm excited to see what he does this season.
You have a front-row seat – even if it's at the other end of the field – to some of the new attacking talent on this team. What have those players been like so far?
Everyone has been good. It's a lot of mixing and matching, and trying to find out what the right formula is. I think as the season goes on, every guy up there will get a chance, and hopefully will score some goals.
Are you looking forward to the atmosphere in Portland? I'm sure standing in front of any supporters' club can be hard to deal with, but Portland is pretty unique.
Yeah, definitely. I remember last year, being on the bench and being in that atmosphere. I'm looking forwrad to it. I've seen some of the preseason games, which all of their fans came to. I'm exicited to get out there and play.
JELD-WEN Field has a particularly narrow playing surface. Does that affect a goalkeeper much?
Definitely. Getting to corner kicks and free kicks, it's a lot shorter distance and thus there's less reaction time to things. But I think we tried to practice this week to get used to a smaller field, and I think we'll be okay.