Zac MacMath is back in goal, a place that the confident fourth-year Union keeper never felt he should have left.

"You take that and use it as a chip on your shoulder, more reason to prove people wrong and prove that I deserve to be a starter," MacMath said Tuesday about his demotion.

The Union's interim manager, Jim Curtin, said MacMath would be in goal for Saturday's crucial game with the Columbus Crew at PPL Park after the team made the expected announcement that Rais Mbolhi would be joining Algeria to compete in the African Cup of Nations.

MacMath has started 26 games this season and played well for the Union.

Mbolhi, the two-time World Cup keeper, has yet to make an impact with the team. He cost the Union two points Thursday with his failed attempt to clear the ball that turned into a goal during second-half stoppage time in a 1-1 draw with the visiting Chicago Fire.

Mbolhi will be in goal for Algeria in a pair of matches against Malawi on Oct. 11 and 15. The Union said he would be available to play in their next match, against visiting Sporting Kansas City, on Oct. 18.

The Union (9-10-12, 39 points) must win Saturday. They trail Columbus for the fifth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot by four points with three games remaining.

If Columbus beats the Union and New York defeats Toronto on Saturday, the Union would be eliminated from playoff consideration. Much will be on MacMath's shoulders.

"With Rais in international duty, Zac will step right in, and he had a very good day today," Curtin said after practice. "He made a ton of saves, was vocal and confident, so that is what you hope for in your goalkeeper, especially in an important game."

Curtin is hoping to have all of his players available this week after key starters Sebastien Le Toux (ankle), Conor Casey (knee), Ethan White (hamstring), and Sheanon Williams (quadriceps) missed Thursday's game.

"We should have our full selection to choose from, which is positive," Curtin said.

@sjnard