THE UNION is right on the cusp of the playoff picture. It has 13 matches remaining, and was eager to make a move to bolster its roster for the homestretch. The club made a big move for an overseas star, but not in a position many would think.
The Union announced yesterday it has signed Rais M'Bolhi, the goalkeeper of the Algerian national team. The 28-year-old is just off an outstanding World Cup performance in which he was awarded a man of the match award in his team's knockout-round loss to Germany.
"As a coach, you get very excited when you can bring in a player of his caliber," Union manager Jim Curtin said. "World-class goalkeepers don't grow on trees. They are difficult to find. It was a World Cup that you saw a lot of exceptional goalkeepers, and he was one of them."
The question is what will happen with current Union starting goalkeeper Zac MacMath, and backup Andre Blake. MacMath, who is just 23, is having the best year of his young career, while Blake was the consensus No. 1 pick in the Superdraft in January.
"Now we have three of the best goalkeepers in Major League Soccer, in my opinion," Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz said. "With Rais' veteran leadership, he is at an age now where he is hitting the prime for a goalkeeper. Goalkeepers develop much later than field players. He is hitting his stride now as a top-class goalkeeper, and I couldn't be more excited."
What will happen to MacMath and Blake remains to be seen, but the Union waived third-string goalkeeper Brian Holt to make room for M'Bolhi. Curtin said he had talks with both MacMath and Blake, and they handled the news like professionals.
"These are the toughest things about being a pro," Curtin said. "That is why you get paid money to play the game, because it is hard. You always have to be able to adjust. I actually heard [former NBA player and current coach] Steve Kerr say athletes don't get paid to play the game, they get paid to deal with the tough situations you are dealt."
"We have a couple of fantastic young goalkeepers on our roster right now in Zac MacMath and Andre Blake," Sakiewicz said. "Two terrific, promising guys that are going to be tremendous goalkeepers someday, and we just added a tremendous veteran goalkeeper. It is really going to bolster our goalkeeping core."
The process of signing M'Bolhi was not a simple one, or a rushed one. The Union has been in contact with M'Bolhi 6 or 7 months, with talks escalating after the World Cup. He was spotted in a suite with some of the Union brass two weeks ago, sparking rumors of his signing.
"I got the chance to come to meet Nick and to see the club,'' M'Bolhi said. "Nick had the vision of everything. Since I met Nick, my decision was already made because he wants to win. We have a really nice project, and that's what I was looking for, a project."