Just yesterday, the Union front office held a press conference to release a “major announcement.” It came as no surprise that the pressor was held to formally reveal the signing of World Cup goalkeeper, Rais M’Bolhi.
M’Bolhi, 28 years old, has played for wide variety of clubs throughout Eastern Europe and Russia. What really brought the world’s attention to him was his outstanding performance in this summer’s World Cup. M’Bolhi made incredible saves to lead the Algerian national team to the knockout round of the tournament, an accomplishment never achieved by Algeria before.
Although it is undeniable M’Bolhi is a keeper of great skill and potential and the Union are fortunate to have a athlete of his caliber play at PPL Park week in and week out, this signing has stirred up some problems for the Union, specifically with the front office.
The Union have all of MLS wondering why? Why the front office felt the need to bring in a new keeper when the club already has one of MLS’ finest young goalies who has been nothing but exceptional this season. Not to mention Andre Blake who they had drafted as the first round pick this January.
Now signing Blake, at the time, seemed to make sense considering MacMath tended to be very inconsistent in the 2013 regular season. Blake gave Hackworth options in goal. But, MacMath surprised myself and many other Union fans this season with his display of athleticism and finesse rarely found in young keepers his age. Inconsistency has not been a problem at all, as every single game MacMath shows up and performs. I strongly believe that the Union’s already mediocre record this season would be prudently worse if it weren’t for MacMath. He brings so much to the team and makes that much of a difference on the pitch.
MacMath’s future seems to be one big question mark at the moment. In the press conference Jim Curtin said that once M’Bolhi has settled in with the club he will be the starting goalkeeper. So where does this leave MacMath? Initially one would think that the Union would look to trade him or loan him out to another team. Owner, Nick Sackiewicz was very proud to announce that the Union now have “three of the best goalkeepers in Major League Soccer” Why he believes that is a good thing? I haven’t got a clue. As was joked about on twitter endlessly yesterday, the Union can only play one goalie at a time; there simply is no need to have three keepers of such talent. Although I personally believe it would unfair to trade MacMath it makes more sense than keeping him. The Union have struggled defensively this season. Money the club has to spend needs to be spent on someone who will make in a difference in their weak backline. MacMath could be used as trade bait to bring in someone who will lift that backline.
However, it looks as if M’Bolhi will be unavailable for five of the Union’s final games due to national team duties. Andre Blake will most likely be unavailable for one for the same reason. Hackworth and Curtin stressed yesterday that these last games are critical and that they will be treating them as if they are playoff games. It is the only choice they have if they want even a chance of making it into the postseason. So with these last few games being of such significance, do they take a risk and start Blake for games M’Bolhi will be unable to play in or do they keep MacMath and play him?
Sackiewicz said in the press conference yesterday that the technical staff have been working very hard to create a plan that will ultimately lead to success. Although I don’t think this “plan” could be anymore unclear. As usual, I don’t see where this team is going. I don’t see Sakiewicz’s vision for the team. Yesterday when asked about MacMath’s future and what the club plans to do with him I found myself just flat out annoyed with how Jim Curtin responded. He was all about bringing on a veteran goalkeeper which would typically never be a bad thing. Experience is always a valued characteristic in a player. In this situation though, it is more of a bad thing than a good thing (in my opinion). Curtin discussed the options of loaning MacMath out to other teams in the league or to a NASL team or even to the Union’s affiliate team the Harrisburg City Islanders because he thinks it is important for young players to get minutes played. I tend to think that idea is just a little hypocritical. MacMath is already playing every minute of every game for the Union, a much higher level of play than an NASL team. He is pushing himself as a player and it’s clear on the pitch. Over the years I’ve only seen tremendous progression from MacMath especially throughout the current season. Why take a player who is playing at a high standard and lower the level of play for which he plays at?
Curtin went on to say “It’s not often in the rest of the world — where do 22 and 23 year old kids get handed the keys to the club, it doesn’t happen anywhere.” Personally I think that is the wrong mindset to have when coaching a team. He shouldn’t be hesitant to try something different because it isn’t done in other league’s around the world. MLS is not like any other leagues around the world. It is as if Curtin is saying ‘oh they don’t start young keepers in the premier league so we shouldn’t be doing that.’ It is the wrong way to think, If playing as a starting keeper for an MLS team is working for MacMath, why change that?
The biggest issue I have with this signing is the fact that the Union have so many other problems that need to be worked out. Zac MacMath and our goalkeeping is not the problem. Other than the problem defensively the Union have yet to find a new head coach to replace Jim Curtin. It’s unclear as to who will take over this job or if they will even hire someone new. I think it was very obvious that the front office was planning on firing Hackworth well before they actually did. They waited until the world cup break to do so. I think they should have started looking for someone to bring in before they even fired Hackworth so that the new coach would be able to utilize those two weeks and really get the team going in the direction he wants. But it’s been nearly two months and they haven’t done anything.
(image courtesy of Philadelphia Union)