Portland Timbers - Philadelphia Union Preview; Analyzing Zac MacMath's First Game

CHESTER, PA - SEPTEMBER 07: Goalkeeper Zac MacMath #18 of the Philadelphia Union looks back into the net as the fourth goal of the first half is scored on him during the game against the New England Revolution at PPL Park on September 7, 2011 in Chester, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)

This weekend is going to be a huge game for the Portland Timbers. If they can go to Philadelphia and bring home three points they'll have done themselves a great favor in getting that much closer to a play-off spot. While neither a draw nor a loss would put the nail in the coffin, I think we can all agree at this point that winning imperative at this point.

So when heading to Philadelphia this weekend, it's important to learn about who the Timbers will be facing. While I'll have a more conclusive interview/chat type preview tomorrow concerning the team at large (which has changed fairly dramatically since the last encounter) I decided to focus an entire article on their man in the net, 20 year old Zac MacMath.

Youthful Goalkeeping

It's a known phenomenon that goalkeepers tend to reach their peak far later than a traditional soccer player. I'm not a physiologist or any sort of doctor or sports medicine professional so I'll refrain from saying why this is, but they just do. An older goalkeeper is usually preferred over the younger keepers for good reason as wisdom and smart thinking are usually preferred over sheer physicality. Not to say young keepers can't prove themselves both...

This was why Philadelphia brought in Faryd Mondragon in the off season seeing as how their starting keeper last year was younger and let in more than a few glaring goals. Unfortunately for the Union, their starting keeper is out which means young Zac MacMath, at the age of 20, will be starting against the Timbers come Saturday. It will only be his second time playing for the Union... he is the fourth youngest goalkeeper to ever start in MLS.

So what does this mean for the Timbers? Well, it's a weakness that needs to be exploited. I have no doubt that Zac MacMath is an adequate goalkeeper. Better than adequate actually as he was the 5th overall pick in this year's SuperDraft. But he's still open to mistakes during his youthful learning process. It'll be up to the Timbers to find out what works and what doesn't.

But why wait until Saturday to figrue him out when we have a choice game from last night to analyze instead...

Philadelphia Union vs. New England Revolution

Last night the New England Revolution went into PPL park in Philadelphia and dominated for the first half. By the 45th minute mark it was 4-1 for New England... very impressive. While the game would ultimately end up being a 4-4 tie, I'll mainly be focusing on the four goals scored against MacMath.

The first goal scored against Philly came from a Chirs Tierney freekick to A.J. Soares who headed the ball into the  upper left corner of the net. Honestly, there was little any goalkeeper could have done to stop it as it seemed to be much more of a lucky header/bad defending goal. Still, the way Zac MacMath reacted at all in the highlights showed that he didn't do much regardless.

The second goal by Rajko Lekic was a penalty kick, a goalkeeper's worst nightmare. Honestly, nobody expects most keepers to get this type of goal and certainly MacMath shouldn't stress too much about it either... In fact, he read Lekic quite well who clotted it right into the back of the net with no bends or curves. He dove to the right just a tiny bit before realizing what was happening. A good effort, really.

The third goal came from another cross into the box by Tierney to Moncef Zerka who headed into the top right corner. This was actually a telling goal as it was an entirely stoppable goal by MacMath who was in position but just didn't have the reflexes yet to reach the spot. All in all, he just sort of watched it sail in.

Finally in the 33rd minute from the 30th-ish yard line Benny Feilhaber gets the ball and just drives it right into the lower left corner of the net. Very impressive to get by all the Philly defenders, but equally unimpressive for MacMath to not reach that in time. I can't say exactly what happened as the ball could have just gotten lost behind all the bodies, but it looked like MacMath, once again, just didn't have the reflexes to make it.

All in all, for a first ever MLS game MacMath shouldn't be too worried. While four goals looks bad on any keepers record, it's safe to say that at least 2 of those goals were pretty much unstoppable by most keepers in MLS, let alone a rookie one.

So what did we learn about MacMath for the Timbers game on Saturday? Well, pretty much what we already knew: he's young. As such his reflexes aren't where they'll be in 5-10 years and he's still not entirely accustomed to the speed of MLS players and the precision shots they can make. It'll be imperative that the Timbers take more chances against him to wear him down and try to play off that youthfulness if they're to win this weekend.

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