Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes
SANDY — Former world No. 1 tennis player Andre Agassi once said: "(My father) believes in math. Numbers, he says, don't lie."
Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Zac MacMath is tied for the most minutes played in MLS this season, having played every minute of the first 11 games, and also leads the league in saves with 47 already this year. Mathematically speaking, he has been one of the most consistent and effective players on RSL and in MLS through a third of the 2022 season.
The numbers don't lie.
"He's definitely earned the right to be a starter," head coach Pablo Mastroeni said of MacMath. "I think he single-handily has kept us in the majority of games that we've played this year, and it has brought a lot of confidence to the back line. I think the confidence that the team shows defending starts with Zac and his ability to communicate and release pressure. He's definitely put himself in a position in the short term, long term to be a starter for this team."
There aren't many, if any, fans that could have predicted MacMath's surprising success at the end of the 2021 season, with 21-year-old phenom David Ochoa looking like a rising star and perennial starter for RSL following the run to the Western Conference Final. His breakout year included a call up to the U.S. Men's National Team, followed by a highly-publicized move to the Mexico National Team, which he earned an opportunity with last month.
But as told by the stats mentioned above, Ochoa had yet to see a minute of MLS action in 2022 as he dealt with a quad injury that kept him sidelined until the U.S. Open Cup match against Hailstorm FC on April 20. He played all 90 minutes in the disappointing 1-0 loss but has since suffered another setback with a dislocated finger.
"I think the most important thing is to make sure David gets back to a place both mentally and physically that he's ready to step on the field and contribute at 100%," Mastroeni said. "Zac's been playing great and so now it's just about Ochoa getting to the level that where he's playing fantastic and feels really good about his game, and then, obviously, like everyone else waiting for an opportunity to step in, when called upon.
"He's making really good strides in that direction. There's no predictor of the future, but the focus for us is making sure that he gets back to that place where he's playing at his best."
So now the question arises: What happens when Ochoa is back to 100%?
I took to RSL Twitter to ask the fans their thoughts on the matter, and the majority of opinion sounded something like: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
Alright the replies seem to be leaning one way, but I'd like to get a more accurate number. Please RT and send to your #RSL fan friends.— Caleb Turner (@calebturner23) May 11, 2022
In a Twitter poll conducted, almost 70% of respondents (as of Wednesday afternoon) said they would prefer to keep MacMath as the starter even once Ochoa is fully healthy and available.
"(In my opinion), it's MacMath's spot to lose," Lucas Muller said on Twitter.
"Let's ride Zach until he retires," @mrbigtoughguy said. "If he can keep up the current pace, and continue to develop Ochoa until he's a superkeeper."
MacMath is 30 years old and playing in his 12th MLS season, but he's shown few signs of slowing down. He's already made the most appearances in a season this year since his time with the Colorado Rapids in 2017 with 11 and has been the most durable player for an injury-riddled RSL squad to start the year.
Midfielder Pablo Ruiz is the only other RSL player to start every match so far this season, a streak that will come to an end this week due to yellow card accumulation. With Ruiz suspended for this weekend's match against Austin, MacMath will become the only Claret-and-Cobalt player to start all 12 matches in 2022, a stat that has clearly started to mean something and endear him to RSL faithful.