There have been few Inter Miami CF players who’ve faced the pressure starting goalkeeper John McCarthy has dealt with during the early parts of the 2021 season.
Coach Phil Neville stressed throughout preseason that allowing fewer goals would be key for Inter Miami to have a more successful second season in MLS than first, putting a spotlight on McCarthy and the backline after Miami allowed 35 goals through 23 games in 2020.
“Everyone talks about the Gonzalos [Higuaín], [Rodolfo] Pizarros and the big players on the team,” Neville said, “but John and the goalkeeper position to me is equally as big.”
McCarthy’s ability to protect Inter Miami’s goal took on an even greater emphasis for the team outside of its win-loss record before the season even started.
For every Inter Miami goalkeeper save, the club and AutoNation makes a $500 donation toward cancer research, with $8,000 being donated after the team’s first six games.
The philanthropic aspect of McCarthy’s performances hasn’t fazed him.
“I just have to go out,” McCarthy said, “and play my game.”
He’s taken the same approach to Inter Miami signing Dutch goalkeeper Nick Marsman in April, with Marsman set to join the team soon ahead of being roster-eligible starting in July after completing his season with Feyenoord of Eredivisie, the top soccer division in the Netherlands.
“They’re trying to create as much competition, it doesn’t matter what position,” McCarthy said of Inter Miami signing Marsman, who’ll compete with McCarthy for the starting goalkeeper job. “I’m going to do my best to compete with him and push him every, and I think he’ll probably say the same things of pushing and competing every day because that’s what we’re here to do.”
How McCarthy keeps from feeling too pressured has to do with his upbringing as well as his career before becoming Inter Miami’s starting goalkeeper.
McCarthy, a Cinnaminson, N.J., native who attended high school at Northeast Catholic in Philadelphia, grew up in an “athletic” family.
His father, John Sr., had a standout collegiate career for La Salle University’s men soccer team. McCarthy also played collegiate soccer at La Salle. McCarthy’s younger brother, Pat, also played for La Salle as a midfielder from 2016-19 and has been training with Inter Miami’s USL League One team, Fort Lauderdale CF.
McCarthy’s wife, Jackie, was a midfielder for La Salle’s women’s soccer team from 2010-13, with McCarthy saying she stays on him about his performances just as much as anyone else.
“She watches all of the games,” McCarthy said, “and she lets me know when I [mess] up just as much as anyone on my team does.”
McCarthy starred at La Salle from 2010-13 while also playing for USL PDL (now known as USL League Two) clubs Ocean City Nor’easters (2011 and ’12), and Reading United AC (2013) during the collegiate offseasons.
“To put you up in that level of competition for two months and then you play against these guys in college,” McCarthy said, “you try to really hold yourself to a high standard and compete to push yourself to be better than those guys who want to take your job essentially.”
He signed his first professional deal with USL Pro (now USL Championship) club the Rochester Rhinos in 2014, making 18 appearances for the team en route to being named the USL Pro Goalkeeper and Rookie of Year, before signing his first MLS contract with his hometown club, the Philadelphia Union, in 2015.
McCarthy started 11 games for the Union in 2015 before moving into a reserve role behind star goalkeeper Andre Blake for the remainder of his tenure in Philadelphia until 2018, with McCarthy signing with the Tampa Bay Rowdies of the USL Championship for the 2019 season.”
“I could’ve been just satisfied or cool with being a No. 2, but you got to push yourself and I didn’t want to have the what-if factor,” McCarthy said of his decision to join Tampa Bay. “When I went to Tampa, it was just to get games and try to prove myself to be a starter or get a chance somewhere in MLS to compete.”
McCarthy’s next chance came with Inter Miami last fall, with McCarthy starting in goal for Miami’s final eight games after Luis Robles broke his arm to end his season. Inter Miami went 4-3-1 and allowed 1.25 goals per match with McCarthy in goal to close out the 2020 season before falling to Nashville SC in the playoffs.
Neville said he had a “real, honest conversation” with McCarthy about the Marsman signing — both why it was made and what it would mean for him.
With two inexperienced goalkeepers in Drake Callender and Dylan Castanheira behind McCarthy, the team was looking to bring in a veteran who’ll challenge McCarthy for the starting job.
“We said to him ‘you got 8-10 games as No. 1’,” Neville said, “and ‘when Nick comes in, you got to make sure that No. 1 jersey remains yours. You’ve got our trust and our belief.’”
And McCarthy is up to the challenge Marsman’s expected to bring for his No. 1 spot.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re a $10-million player or a minimum-salary type of guy: when someone comes in, you look to compete with them,” McCarthy said. “I’m going to push him as much as possible to make him better and I think he’s going to push me as much as possible because we’ve both been in environments that are competitive. You play to compete and win.”