TRANSFORMATIVE YEAR AWAITS MACMATH
The University of Maryland's Zac MacMath is looking to become part of the next generation of talented American goalkeepers after a successful Milk Cup with the United States Under-20 team.
MacMath, 19, is currently with Maryland where he will look to lead the perennial NCAA power to its third national championship since 2005.
He is about to begin his junior season with the Terrapins and he knows that the decision to possibly turn professional will loom immediately after the season.
"I definitely know I want to play professionally," MacMath told YA. "It's just a matter of when the right opportunity comes by. Hopefully after this season, the team will have a good season and I will have a good season individually, some opportunities will open up for me."
MacMath has been given the taste of the professional environment in recent years. In the past he has trained in the off-season with Bundesliga club Stuttgart as well as in Belgium.
Earlier this month, MacMath trained with English Premier League club Everton after the opportunity was arranged by US U20 goalkeeper coach Tim Mulqueen and former Maryland goalkeeper coach Rob Vartughian who both have strong connections to US international and Everton keeper Tim Howard.
"It was unbelievable," MacMath recalled of his time at Everton. "From training with Tim Howard everyday to training with four or five guys that just got back from the World Cup. In general, just training with an English Premier League team and seeing how they go about things, before practice, after practice, and obviously during practices, was an unbelievable experience that I will always cherish."
When compared to his earlier training stints in Europe, MacMath prefers the atmosphere he experienced with Everton to that in Germany or Belgium.
"It was definitely a lot different than Belgium which was just smaller," MacMath described. "The guys weren't as intense or big. Germany was very organized and strict. But the English Premier League is just a different level and the players are unbelievable pros. They take their job very seriously and they know what they have to do every day. That was the biggest difference."
Now having been able to experience the professional environment at the highest level, MacMath will have a lot experience to draw from when he makes the decision as to when and where to start his professional career.
MacMath is, however, determined to make the move to Europe at some point.
"Whatever is best for my career, whether it be MLS or making the jump overseas right away," MacMath said of turning professional. "[But] whether it's next year or in the next three years or five years, I definitely want to play in Europe and obviously in the top leagues either in Spain, Italy, or England. That's always been my aspiration to be a top goalkeeper and hopefully represent the full national team."
While much has been made of college soccer and its ability to develop professional players of international caliber, MacMath is happy with his decision to attend Maryland even though going to college was not in his initial plans.
"Originally I didn't think I was going to go to college but I am actually really happy that I did," the St. Petersburg, Florida native pointed out. "Just because I am still young and only just turned 19 and I am going into my junior season. [Head coach Sasho Cirovski] puts us into a professional environment as much as he can. I think it's been great for my development and I don't think I would have been the player I am without it. I am glad I did it."
In addition to the upcoming NCAA season and the decision to potentially turn professional in December, MacMath is also widely considered to be the top keeper for the US U20 national team.
In July, MacMath started two of the three games for the US in their championship run at the Milk Cup. In each of his games, he posted shutouts including one in a 3-0 victory over the hosts, Northern Ireland, in the final.
MacMath has come away impressed with the quality of the U20 team that head coach Thomas Rongen has put together.
"The Milk Cup was our first time having that group together with all those guys," MacMath discussed. "We obviously played very well and the team chemistry is only going to grow stronger when we go through qualifying and hopefully through the World Cup. I definitely think we can make a run at the World Cup."
MacMath has been part of the US U20 team for most of this cycle and he has noticed a steady improvement in the team coming together; most significantly in the attacking players that Rongen has introduced into the team.
Most of these players have been based with Mexican clubs or are from Mexican-American families who have grown up within the culture and style of Mexican soccer. MacMath has felt that this has changed the style of this US team for the better.
"Growing up playing, there weren't a lot of Mexicans on the teams and there wasn't a lot of flair," MacMath said of the Mexican influence on the team. "There was a lot of long-ball play. Now that we have a bunch of guys who grew up in that different culture where keeping the ball and using their skills more."
"We now use that to breakdown teams and defenses instead of relying on big guys up top to knock it in and all that," he continued. "I think it is definitely bringing a different element to the team that I have never experienced with any other US team."
The upcoming year is shaping up to be a transformative year for MacMath as he will attempt to win an NCAA title, potentially take his career overseas to begin his career in a major league, and lead a very talented US national team into the U20 World Cup in Colombia next summer.
As he looks to begin this important year, MacMath has been given an enormous boost in confidence from his time at Everton and working with Howard and other elite professionals.
"I brought a lot back with me from Everton," MacMath said with optimism. "A lot of knowledge from Tim Howard and the past 10 years he has been a professional."
MacMath and the sixth ranked Maryland Terrapins will open their season at home against the Michigan State Spartans on Friday, September 3rd.