Maryland is in good hands with goalie Zac MacMath

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 3, 2010; 8:21 PM

Zac MacMath is ready to go. His U.S. under-20 national team coach believes he could've gone two years ago. His Maryland coach says he is just happy to have had his star goalkeeper for a third season.

MacMath's most pressing concern is the second-seeded Terrapins' NCAA quarterfinal match against No. 10 Michigan on Saturday afternoon at Ludwig Field and the opportunity of returning to the College Cup for the second time in three years.

But beyond the potential trip to Santa Barbara, Calif., for the final four next weekend, MacMath is looking to a career in MLS or Europe.

"I am concentrating on this season first, but I'm definitely thinking that, past the season, my time has come and that I am hopefully ready to take on a new challenge," said MacMath, a 19-year-old junior from St. Petersburg, Fla. "Really the only thing that could keep me in college would be an injury."

Otherwise, when the Maryland season ends, his stay in College Park will end.

"He is definitely ready for the next step, and it's going to be Zac's choice," Terrapins Coach Sasho Cirovski said. "I'm not looking to keep Zac in school. If he ends up staying, I will be delighted, but he's ready to move into the next phase of his career. I'm ecstatic that I've had him for three years."

MacMath would join an extensive list of players, including Glasgow Rangers midfielder Maurice Edu, who have flourished at Maryland before departing early to seek a pro career. Although he is among about a dozen non-seniors around the country targeted by MLS, MacMath might end up in Europe.

He is a known quantity in international circles: He started for the U.S. under-20 squad at a tournament in Northern Ireland in July, attracted Spanish and German scouts to College Park in the past year and trained informally for a week alongside World Cup goalkeeper Tim Howard at English Premier League club Everton in August.

"I'm split about where to go," he said. "I really wanted to go to Europe before college but it didn't work out. Seeing how MLS has grown the last few years, that has become a more popular option. I'm just going to try to find the best opportunity that jump-starts my career."

MacMath is enjoying his finest year on both the college and international levels. Backed by a maturing backline, he has registered 15 shutouts for the Terrapins (19-2-1), who have won 15 consecutive matches, one short of the program record. Last Sunday, MacMath made a sensational leaping save in the first half of a 1-0 victory over No. 15 Penn State; his father Gary started in goal for the Nittany Lions from 1970 to '72.

"He was always mature beyond his years in terms of his soccer knowledge, his training approach, his commitment level," Cirovski said. "But now his overall understanding of the game and connection to the team has gone to another level. He is such a calming influence."

At 6 feet 2 and 185 pounds, MacMath has a command of the penalty area. His confidence and leadership qualities have risen this season after an eventful summer.

He started in the under-20 team's championship run at the Milk Cup in Northern Ireland.

"He has matured tremendously," U.S. Coach Thomas Rongen said. "He became a leader and had a great presence. He has shown that he is ready to make that leap" to the pros.

Instead of returning home from Northern Ireland, MacMath traveled to Liverpool to practice with Howard and Everton. He stayed at Howard's house and was involved in club activities for five days.

"Seeing the professional environment opened my eyes, to see how everything really is," he said. "It made me realize that, if I really want this, I have a lot to work to do. It made me want it even more and to work harder this season because I know the dream isn't that far away."

The experience, albeit brief, carried over to the college season.

"It was a good part of Zac's evolution in that he was able to see one of his idols and see the life," Cirovski said. "That is clearly what Zac wants. He has all the capacity to do it. I have no doubt that he'll be one of our great keepers."

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