I sat down with Chris Eckard of the Diamondback, University of Maryland's student newspaper, Diamondback Online and Terrapin Trail to discuss (now) former Maryland goalkeeper Zac MacMath – he was drafted by the Union with the fifth overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft. Eckard had a lot to say with plenty of information in every answer. We focused mostly on MacMath as a player in college and what he will be like for the Union.
Scott: What was Zac like as a college student on campus? Was he your typical kid/student-athlete or was he different than most even off the pitch?
Christopher: As far as I know, Zac was a fine student at Maryland although I didn’t really seem him all the much around campus aside from him riding a scooter around with Matt Kassel (New York Red Bulls). But really Zac is your prototypical professional. He’s been groomed and raised to become a professional soccer player from his days before Maryland and his days during. With that in mind, he used that approach in all facets of his life – from his tireless work on the pitch to his school work. Still, he knew there was only a matter of time until he became a professional soccer player. He left Maryland before finals even started to go train with the U-20 team.
Scott: His demeanor about his talent and potential, that humbleness and modesty about himself he exudes, that was there even when he was a freshman leading the nation in goals against average?
Christopher: Of course. Well if we go back to his freshman days, he really was only a 17-year-old somewhat lost amongst a team full of talent. He balanced time with another keeper for the first half of the year before outright winning the job. He was really held up by arguably the best backline in the country made up of four future professionals. At that time he mostly focused on what he could bring to the team. Since the exodus of players in '08, Zac's taken on much more of a leadership role and demonstrated not just the tactical ability to play the position. He's always humble and will always talk about the players in front of him, but he has a great confidence about him as well. He's just built that confidence more and more with his career at Maryland and with the U-20 team. He's improved vastly since his freshman campaign and continues to work at it. Hes only 19.
Much, much more after the jump…
Scott: Do you see his age as a strength or weakness? Goalkeepers age much differently than the outfield players and Zac is considerably younger than the typical college goalkeeper.
Christopher: I think it’s a great strength of Zac’s. He’s accomplished so much already in the time he’s played and he’s still under 20 years old. He’s spent two and a half years in college, understands the game much more and has just matured as a person on and off the pitch. The people around him now from Tom Rongen the U-20 coach to Sasho Cirovski the UMD coach to his new coaches in Philadelphia, Zac really has the tools in place to be successful. You can just tell when you talk to him that he’s ready to become a professional. He worked with Tim Howard over the summer for a week and I think that brief glimpse into the life of a true professional goalkeeper really helped him mature and look forward to that moment. He’s ready and Philadelphia certainly has a great player.
Scott: What’s his playing style like? Is he stronger at certain parts of his game than others? And is there a professional goalkeeper out there today that you’d compare him to? Maryland head coach Sasho Cirovski said that he is like Chris Seitz in many ways.
Christopher: Every time you bring up the names of the top goalkeepers he's ever coached, Cirovski will always talk about Seitz and now MacMath. The two have a ton of similarities in how they play and their own career arc. Still they are different and Cirovski always makes that point. It's interesting because I think it really shocked Cirovski when Seitz went to the pro's when he did. He had the talent and the potential to succeed, but Cirovski really felt another year or two in College Park would have really helped his maturity and growth. It's the opposite for Zac. Cirovski thought he would get two years and instead got three. It wasn't to anyone's surprise that Zac left school and I believe Cirovski really backed his decision. As for MacMath as a player, he's a true leader. He knows how to command a backline and read an attack. He made some incredible stops this past year and is surprisingly gifted with his feet. Many times after practice I saw him taking shots at the goal. He loves the game and takes pride in everything he does.
Scott: Do you think he has the ability to handle the pressure that inherrently comes from playing in front of the incredibly passionate Philly crowd? He took the right first step by acknowledging the Sons of Ben (which he says his dad suggested) during his draft speech, but is he ready for the on field pressure?
Christopher: I believe he is. Maryland had a great fanbase, but he really didn't face too many pressure situations from fans during his time in College Park. I would say that he's had great international experience playing in front of hostile crowds. According to him, he's seen almost everything. But I think he's looking forward to the pressure that comes with becoming a professional soccer player. He does have an excellent opportunity this summer with the U-20 team during the World Cup. He should be the No. 1 keeper for the team and should have a ton of pressure on him to make a difference. It'll be interesting to see how he handles it, but I don't think he should have a problem there or in Philadelphia.
Scott: Rumors of soon-to-be 40-year-old Faryd Mondragon, formerly of FC Koln in the German Bundesliga, being signed by the Union are apparently close to coming true. With the goalkeeper due to be announced this week, how do you think MacMath will do while possibly sitting behind another goalkeeper for two years?
Christopher: I'm not too sure really. He's stated before the draft that whether he winds up he wanted the chance to get time. I don't think he's really had a situation like that. He sat on the bench during part of his freshman year but only barely. He's had to compete on an international scale for a spot before. We'll see. The key for him is to find games somehow in different avenues.
Scott: Then the question is, do you think he has the chance to compete head-to-head with a goalkeeper who has had a wealth of experience playing throughout the world (Argentina, Turkey, Germany)?
Christopher: Again I'm not sure. I don't really know too much about Bundesliga, but I'm sure MacMath will put up some sort of fight. I don't really see MacMath coming in an winning the starting job early or anything, but he'll develop. I think it's crucial that he's paired with Rob Vartughian once again, who was an assistant for Maryland before Philadelphia and worked extensively with Zac for two years. That partnership will be crucial and works in great favor for Zac. I'm sure Vartughian was a driving force in bringing Zac to the Union.