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Union plans for future, drafts Maryland goalie with No. 5 pick

BALTIMORE - His current address is in Florida, but newly minted Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath is all Philly. His dad Gary played soccer at Frankford, was a member of the famed Lighthouse Boys Club, and was coached by Philly soccer legend Walter Bahr at Penn State.

Zac MacMath was the fifth pick in the MLS SuperDraft. (Tim Sharp/AP)
Zac MacMath was the fifth pick in the MLS SuperDraft. (Tim Sharp/AP)Read more

BALTIMORE - His current address is in Florida, but newly minted Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath is all Philly.

His dad Gary played soccer at Frankford, was a member of the famed Lighthouse Boys Club, and was coached by Philly soccer legend Walter Bahr at Penn State.

He has family in the Northeast and in Valley Forge, all of whom Gary says can't wait to go to PPL Park in Chester. Gary will be putting his frequent flier miles to good use, commuting from the family home in St. Petersburg to Chester.

"I have some Southwest Airlines miles that I'll definitely be taking advantage of now," Gary joked. "This is fantastic, we couldn't be more proud of Zac, plus we have family in the area, so it's a treat for all of us to have him play in Philadelphia."

MacMath, 19, a junior at the University of Maryland, was taken with the No. 5 overall selection in the Major League Soccer draft yesterday at the Baltimore Convention Center. He is part of what appears to be an emerging pipeline of goalkeepers from Maryland to the Union (see Chris Seitz), polished by goalkeeping coach Rob Vartughian, a former Terps goalkeeper coach who maintains deep ties to head coach Sasho Cirovski's nationally recognized program.

"I can't take all the credit for this [pick]," Vartughian said. "[Union assistant] John Hackworth coached him on the [under-17 national team], and Peter [Nowak, Union coach] and myself have known him for quite some time. Zac has abilities that far exceed anything that can be taught, but he is only 19, so we want to make sure that we groom him to become our future goalkeeper, because he certainly has the potential."

MacMath, who will fulfill commitments to the U.S. Under-20 national team, is expected to battle for the backup spot, with much of his work coming in MLS' revived reserve league. With Colombian goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon expected in the coming days via free transfer from the German club FC Cologne and Brad Knighton boasting 4 years of MLS experience, MacMath will have to earn his way onto the team.

He's done that for much of his career.

"I had to work my way up at Maryland, and I don't expect that to be any different here," said MacMath, a first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection in 2010. "I am working with a coach [Vartughian] that I know well and have a lot of respect for. I am excited for the challenge."

That challenge will wait, for now, as MacMath will join Union teammate Amobi Okugo and the rest of the U.S. Under-20 teams in preparation for the upcoming FIFA World Cup in June.

While defense was a priority for the Union, it was surprising to see that the team picked someone to shore up its last line of defense in the first round. The second pick was even more of a shocker: North Carolina midfielder Michael Farfan, who was taken at No. 23. Farfan, a semifinalist for college player of the year, will bring dynamic playmaking abilities to the Union, whose roster already is loaded with 13 midfielders. His twin brother Gabriel plays for Club America in the Mexican First Division. While observers might wonder why the Union drafted no defenders, Nowak and Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz said they are finalizing deals on major players who "will secure the back line." Besides Mondragon, the Union will soon announce the signing of Colombian central defender Carlos Valdez, a source told the Daily News.

But back to the draft . . .

With the 41st pick, its third and final selection, the Union took Maryland-Baltimore County forward Levi Houapeu. If his college resume is an indication of what he could bring to the professional ranks, then consider the 21-year-old a late-round steal. Houapeu tallied 34 goals and 19 assists in his four seasons as a Retriever, his best years coming in his final two seasons, when he compiled 30 goals and 17 assists, including 13 assists in his junior year.

"He can play a bunch of positions and a guy like that needs to be in an environment like ours," Nowak said. "I think at the end of the day, it will help him tremendously. We have been watching him and we are very impressed with him overall."

SIGHTS AND SOUNDS

 Apparently, the trendy thing to do on the podium besides thanking God and family was thanking girlfriends. That's what seven of the 18 players selected in the first round did . . . Red Bull New York pick Corey Hertzog, the college player of the year from Penn State, was called out by a reporter for his comments before the draft on wanting to play for the Union. "Playing soccer at the end of the day is what I want to do, so anywhere's fine," he said, smirking. "I'm not going to hate Philly now and at the end of the day we are just playing soccer" . . . Red Bull New York also selected John Rooney, brother of famed Manchester United forward Wayne Rooney. Red Bull supporters regaled him with "Best Rooney ever" chants as he walked through the ballroom . . . NCAA champion Akron had an astounding seven players drafted - five in the first round. Coach Caleb Porter on the rise of his program: "We try to give our players one of the best soccer environments you can give them in college; we don't coach kids to win championships, we coach them to be successful at the next level, and we take great pride in that."

DRAFT PICK BIOS

 ZAC MacMATH

Age: 19

Position: Goalkeeper

Height: 6-2

Weight: 176

Drafted: First round (fifth overall)

College: Maryland

For kicks: A member of the U.S. Under-20 national team, MacMath, who has Philly ties, isn't expected to make an immediate impact, but is touted as the future of the franchise.

MICHAEL FARFAN

Age: 22

Position: Midfielder

Height: 5-9

Weight: 160

Drafted: Second round (23rd overall)

College: North Carolina

For kicks: Farfan was a member of the 2005 U.S. Under-17 World Cup squad that Union assistant John Hackworth coached.

LEVI HOUAPEU

Age: 21

Position: Forward

Height: 5-8

Weight: 160

Drafted: Third round (41st overall)

College: Maryland-Baltimore County

For kicks: Houapeu needs grooming, but his speed and knack for scoring makes him a steal in the third round. The question is whether he can convert his success in college to the professional ranks.