Despite the jokes about how many goalkeepers the Union were planning to play at one time over the last 6 months or so, the Union went into the offseason with a log jam at the "#1" position, but are entering the opening weekend with a clear picture of who holds each role in the staff. Here is what to expect in 2015.
Starter: Rais M'Bolhi
It is time to put aside how he came to the team and his appearances in 2014 that made the process even harder to swallow. He's here and settled in now and will be the leader of the team in 2015. He looked commanding in the preseason, which bodes well heading into the regular season.
His 2014 season for the Union consisted of just 360 minutes in 4 games. Those games included a 4-2 win over San Jose Earthquakes, 0-0 draw with Houston Dynamo, a 1-0 loss at D.C. United, and the 1-1 heartbreaking draw with Chicago Fire where M'Bolhi's miscue allowed Chicago a last second equalizer when victory seemed all but assured.
Beyond his play with the Union, he is also a star with the Algerian national team. It is important to note that there are 5 FIFA sanctioned dates that could see Rais miss time for the Union. Those dates are March 23-31, June 8-16, August 31-September 8, October 5-13, and November 9-17. Based on the current Union schedule, and barring any dates moved due to weather, work stoppage, or additional Open Cup games, the only games Rais will miss are at Chicago in March, and at San Jose in September. I would call that lucky scheduling.
Back-up: Andre Blake
Even though Blake is the obvious second choice in net, he will miss some time at the beginning of the season, having just underwent a successful partial meniscectomy of his left knee. The Union announced that he is expected to return to the team in 4-6 weeks, which works out to sometime between March 23rd and April 6th.
The 2014 #1 overall SuperDraft pick made just one league appearance in his rookie season, a 2-0 loss at Houston along with a pair of early U.S. Open Cup victories over lower league opposition. He was on the bench for the majority of games in 2014, backing up Zac MacMath.
Just like M'Bolhi, Blake is also a regular with his national team. Blake has made nine appearances with the Jamaican senior national team and once he recovers from his knee surgery should continue that international career. Along with the dates listed above for M'Bolhi, Blake will also be looking to make Jamaica's CONCACAF Gold Cup team in July. The tournament runs from July 7th-26th. The Union have three games scheduled during this period, home against Portland Timbers and then at Toronto and DC. The number of games missed will depend on how far Jamaica make it in the tournament, as they will not be one of the favorites for a deep run.
Reserve: John McCarthy
The (newest) newcomer of the bunch just announced as a signing on February 23rd, having spent time in USL Pro last season. Most teams don't need to worry about who their third string keeper is, however with two international keepers ahead of him, McCarthy is nearly guaranteed at least two starts this season based on FIFA International dates. You will recognize him instantly on the count he takes the field with protective headgear made famous by Chelsea's star-keeper-turned-back-up Petr Cech.
McCarthy has been heavily praised over his college and short professional career. He is La Salle's all-time leader in saves, shutouts, and games played, he was a three-time all-Atlantic 10 athlete and NSCAA Scholar All-American. His only season with the Rochester Rhinos saw him named team rookie of the year, USL Pro rookie of the year, and USL Pro goalkeeper of the year.
Out on Loan: Zac MacMath
He most likely will never suit up again for the Philadelphia Union, but Zac MacMath is still technically owned by the team. His time between the posts were turbulent to say the least. Many fans were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, saying that the inconsistencies in his game were improving and growing increasingly fewer and fewer over time. The drafting of Andre Blake was a major warning shot to MacMath's spot on the roster, but the signing of M'Bolhi was the final word. When no one would bite on trading for him, the Union worked out a deal to send him to Colorado Rapids for the last season on his current contract with the option to buy.
One important note: Due to MLS rules and regulations, players who are on loan are not able to play against the club that owns their contract. Thus, MacMath will be forced to sit out of the first weekend of the season when Colorado visits PPL Park.