There is nothing that energizes a soccer team more than a keeper figuratively standing on his head, making one big save after another.
That was the situation last Friday when Zac MacMath had his best Major League Soccer game of the season - and possibly his career - in a 1-0 win at Sporting Kansas City.
Don't take our word for it, just listen to Conor Casey, who scored the game's lone goal to snap a five-game winless streak and suddenly put the Union in control of their own postseason destiny with four games left.
"It gave everybody in front of him all the confidence in the world," Casey said of MacMath's play. "He played his best game by far this year and saved everything that came his way."
MacMath has enjoyed a solid year. He entered the weekend sharing the MLS lead with 11 shutouts, but there are times when keepers are asked to go above and beyond the norm, and that is what he did against Kansas City.
Even MacMath agreed it was his best effort.
"There were a couple of key saves I had to make that I probably haven't made this season and those were difference-makers for the team."
The win moved the Union into the fifth and final Eastern Conference playoff position with 42 points. Things are still extremely tight. Entering the weekend, Columbus and New England had 41 points and Chicago had 40.
On Saturday, the Union will host Toronto FC - a team that is out of playoff contention, has a minus-16 goal differential, and yet still scares the daylights out of the Union.
And for good reason.
The two teams have played to 1-1 draws in both meetings this year. And, of course, after such a big win over a Kansas City team that occupies second place in the crowded Eastern Conference, the inevitable questions about a letdown against Toronto have surfaced.
"I don't think there will be a letdown at all," team manager John Hackworth said. "But the reality is it's a really hard matchup."
Then Hackworth made an interesting statement about his team in the front-runner role.
"We are a little better going in as an underdog than a favorite," he said. "That is what it is and it is hasn't changed all year."
Hackworth said the Kansas City game wasn't a must-win situation, but it's one that could turn the season around, and for one night MacMath put the Union on his back.
"It is a game we definitely needed to win, and big props for him for stepping up," Casey said.
MacMath banged his head making a save but said he was fine. He always plays with a self-assured manner, but his confidence has to be at an all-time high. And considering the stakes, his most recent performance couldn't have arrived at a more opportune time.