SANDY — One of the hardest positions for a player to be put in is to replace a legend.
Ever since longtime Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando announced last March that the 2019 season would be his last in Major League Soccer, a natural question has been who would replace him in 2020.
On Tuesday, head coach Freddy Juarez indicated that Zac MacMath, whom RSL acquired in December from Vancouver Whitecaps FC, has won the job over David Ochoa and Andrew Putna for the team’s season opener on Saturday against Orlando City SC.
“We’re happy with the goalkeepers. They compete ... like any position, it’s going to be a competition.” — RSL coach Freddy Juarez
“Right now we feel like Zac got the edge tactically, experience-wise and had a good preseason putting us not far off,” Juarez said. “He had a very good preseason.”
The 28-year-old MacMath was drafted fifth overall by the Philadelphia Union in 2011 and has a career record of 47-54-40 with 36 clean sheets and a 1.33 goals against average. In addition to Philadelphia and Vancouver, he has also played for the Colorado Rapids.
Juarez noted that the 19-year-old Ochoa also had a “very good preseason, too,” but given that he’ll often be gone on United States national team duty, the coach wants more continuity at ’keeper.
“We’re happy with the goalkeepers,” Juarez said. “They compete ... like any position, it’s going to be a competition. I’m not saying it’s game to game because you’ve got to show confidence towards your players, but it’s a competition just like it is with the center backs, the midfielders and forwards.”
Juarez called MacMath “a very knowledgeable guy” thanks to his career experience, but he also cautioned that he doesn’t want his goalkeepers to focus on the weight of having to replace Rimando.
“We can’t replicate Nick,” Juarez said. “That would be silly of me to tell these guys, ‘You’ve got to play exactly how Nick did.’ They’ve got to bring their own strengths and quickly show some leadership, understand how we’re trying to play as a group and the principles and game that we want to play on the field and bring their own strengths.”
MacMath also addressed the media Tuesday, although he did so before Juarez said anything publicly about the competition for the starting job. He noted that he’s still going through an adjustment being with a new club, but he’s confident in the group’s chances Saturday.
“I’m very happy to be here to help build that success of the club,” he said. “I’m happy with where I stand right now and happy to hopefully build on it as the weeks come on.”