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Talking Philly Union, young goalkeepers and tricky spots

Aug 13, 2012, 3:35 PM EDT

DC United v Philadelphia Union Getty Images

There’s so much irony in the following quote, Alanis Morissette may just need to go back and add it into her noted irony song from a few years back.

This is from young Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath following last night’s loss at home to Chicago:

I don’t think anybody thinks we are out of the playoff picture. All of us are looking forward to next weekend and getting three points back.”

That playoff thing: that is probably a bridge too far. As best I can figure the club would need to win 7 of its final 13 at very minimum, with a few ties in there too, even for a chance.

Here’s the irony: If little shards of a playoff chance remain lying around on the PPL grounds, they might need to rustle up an experience goalkeeper and make a change in net. Because MacMath, 20, keeps making errors that cost points.

(MORE: Highlights of Philly’s loss Sunday to Chicago)

Two of the Chicago Fire strikes Sunday were squarely on him. MacMath came for one cross and didn’t get there, leaving the goal exposed. And he somehow managed to jump out of the way on Chris Rolfe’s second goal. (MacMath anticipated Rolfe going to the far post; it didn’t work out so well for him.)

So, what does Hackworth do? Because it gets tricky.

As Hackworth took over for Peter Nowak, one of his first aims was to reconstruct some of the confidence in young players that had been gradually siphoned away under Nowak, a noted old-school hard-ass.

In a conversation I had a week ago with Hackworth (You can listen to it here, it’s the second interview on the show), we talked about rebuilding the self-belief in impressionable players like Jack MacInerney and MacMath, about empowering them by relieving the fear of making mistakes. Said Hackworth:

Any time a young player feels the coaching staff has faith in them, it’s important. When you have young guys like that, they are going to make mistakes, and they don’t have to be perfect. As long as they don’t have to worry about every little thing they do, I think that helps them. It’s a little bit of a weight lifted off their shoulders.”

Which is all great. I truly appreciate that about Hackworth, and I believe he’s squarely on the right track. So long, that is, as he’s willing to concede the 2012 playoff fight, especially as it relates to his young goalkeeper. Here’s what he had to say about MacMath:

Zac is a young, but he’s been a starter for us all year now. Is he going to make mistakes because he’s still only 20 years old? Sure, and I think we just need to understand that, both the players in our locker room and the staff. But Zac is really talented, and he is mature beyond his years. … The mistakes that he will make, and has made, he’s such a student of the game that he’ll learn from those. And to go back to young players, whether you are a goalkeeper or a field player. that’s all you can ask of young players.”

  1. whordy - Aug 13, 2012 at 5:22 PM

    People want to be hard on Zac, and go ahead, he has 100% made mistakes that cost games. But lets not overlook what young GKs go through – even the other one of the field last night.
    Johnson was nothing more than an over hyped disaster who caused the biggest embarrassment in US Soccer history a few months ago … a few months late, some time on the bench, and he is looking great and is getting call ups.
    Same with Hamid. And look overseas to De Gea and Sczeny who had their downs at first.
    I am not saying MacMath hasn’t done anything wrong, and sitting for a game or two wouldn’t be terrible, but a lot of people go overboard and are ready to call MacMaths career over.

    • Steve Davis - Aug 13, 2012 at 6:26 PM

      You are absolutely correct. But there is a balance. Apply too much pressure too early in a career and you may cause irreparable damage. Sometimes you have to get ’em off the front line for a little reboot. (FYI, I’m not saying that’s the deal here. I’m just pointing out the tough choice … blooding the young goalkeeper at the potential cost of a playoff spot, or at least a shot at one.)

  2. arthurgopnik - Aug 14, 2012 at 1:41 PM

    Young keepers are very frustrating to deal with. Zac has made some huge saves this season, but will typically get wrong footed on a shot or cross 1-2 times during a match (just like vs. the Fire). Given the Union’s lack of size and the inability to win headers, it’s not surprising that Zac will sometimes make a poor decision because he can see the same shortcommings in front of him that the opposition are trying to exploit and he gets caught in a bad spot.

    Bottom line, the Union aren’t making the playoffs this year so they really need to find out which of their youngsters can play at this level and retool accordingly for next year.

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