THREE WEEKS after Rais M'Bolhi was brought in to be the Union's goalkeeper of the future, we still await the Major League Soccer debut of the two-time World Cup participant.
That day could still be several weeks away, meaning Zac MacMath is likely to garner a few more starts in goal over the final 10 games of this regular season. The Union (6-6-9) prepared this week as if MacMath would start Sunday's 8 p.m. home game against Chris Wondolowski and the San Jose Earthquakes (6-9-7).
"Now, it's kind of become a certainty of uncertainty, so I've kind of gotten used to not knowing what's going to happen each week," said MacMath, who had started every league game until Friday at Houston, when rookie Andre Blake got the nod.
"But I'm preparing the same as I would if I was going to be the starter each and every week and hoping that I will get the start and hoping that I can help the team win each weekend."
M'Bolhi was set to arrive back in Philadelphia from his native Paris on Wednesday afternoon and spend part of the players' off day yesterday working with the team's goalkeeping coach, BJ Callaghan. His return to the States was delayed briefly by a minor car accident on the way to the airport Tuesday. He was not injured, Union interim manager Jim Curtin said.
That came after the initial holdup, the result of a massive backlog of the State Department's visa processing system, stemming from a computer glitch. Unfortunately for the Union, the issue, detailed recently in the Washington Post, arose just around the time of the M'Bolhi's July 30 signing. As it pertains to M'Bolhi, it's since been resolved, according to Curtin.
Now it's just a matter of M'Bolhi's being ready to play. He missed the first 2 days of training this week and, after Sunday, the Union doesn't play again until Sept. 3 against Toronto. M'Bolhi will represent Algeria in the Africa Cup of Nationals qualifying, held Sept. 5, 6 and 10, ensuring MacMath will get more playing time the rest of the season than originally expected.
"He's been a guy that says he needs to be 100 percent mentally ready to go before he debuts," Curtin said of M'Bolhi, who before signing was in the midst of a layoff after representing Algeria in the World Cup.
"Debuts are special. Goalkeeping's a unique position in that you can not be that involved mentally for 89 minutes, but then you're called upon to make one save. So he wants to be 100 percent sharp. I totally get that."
Friday's 2-0 defeat sent the Union back down to seventh place in the 10-team Eastern Conference. The two teams directly ahead of Philadelphia in the standings, New York and New England, have both played one fewer game than the Union.
Each game for the Union is almost a must win at this point, regardless of who's in net.
"He's been very understanding of the situation," Curtin said of MacMath. "[He] could've handled it in a negative way and been negative and said things in the press, but he's handled it like a pro. It speaks to the kind of kid he is. He's still a good, young goalkeeper and we have a lot of faith in him."
Cristian Maidana continues to work his way back to full strength, recently receiving an injection into his injured hamstring. The midfielder earned positive reviews from Jim Curtin after training on Wednesday . . . Fabinho "took a knock" on his knee in Friday's loss and was set to undergo an MRI, according to Curtin . . . The Union renewed its partnership this week with the Horsham-based Bimbo Bakeries USA. Terms of the multiyear deal were not disclosed, but the Philadelphia Business Journal reported it's a 5-year deal valued at more than $11 million . . . Rehabbing 76ers rookie Joel Embiid, who grew up playing soccer in his native Cameroon, is expected to attend his first Union game Sunday.