BOZEMAN — Phoenix may be home for professional soccer player Zac Lubin, but Bozeman is where his heart is rooted. Lubin started his career at Bozeman High School in the early 2000s and has since worked his way up the ladder to become one of the top goalkeepers in the USL.
Lubin just capped his third season with Phoenix Rising FC and his fifth total in the USL. At the age of 31, the goalkeeper was a late bloomer in the professional ranks but always knew a career was in the future.
“In high school I was like, 'I’m going to be a pro,'" said Lubin. "No doubt. The dream was to be a national team player.”
That dream was sparked by his grandfather at a young age, all thanks to a couple of newspaper clippings.
“My grandpa would always cut out articles about the national team and send them to me that were in The New York Times or the Wall Street Journal. It was always kind of motivation," Lubin said.
To this day, Lubin still has the paper clippings his grandfather would send him. He keeps them safe with an autographed ball from his childhood hero Kasey Keller, who was a starting goalkeeper for the U.S. National Team.
“My uncle got me his autographed ball from Kasey Keller for my 12th or 13th birthday or Christmas," Lubin said. "I still have that ball, and all the clippings my grandpa and my grandparents used to send me I would stick in -- because it was still in the box -- I stuck them in that little box.”
Fast forward nearly 20 years later, and Lubin just came off one of the greatest games in his professional career. With the match tied at 1-1 after extra time in the Western Conference Final against El Paso Locomotive FC, it all came down to penalties. The Montana native had a huge save in the second round, ultimately leading to a 4-2 shootout victory.
"I had done my homework, and I had a pretty good idea of where the shooters were going," Lubin recalled. "I just needed one of them to put the ball where I know where he was going to put it. (Nick) Ross did on the one I saved, and then going into the final kick, the last shot he missed, he slips and falls. That’s the same player I made all my big saves on. I just looked at it that I was so confident, and I had so much real estate in this dude’s head that there was no way he was scoring. He didn’t even get a shot on frame.”
Lubin was not going to let this penalty shootout slip away because he vividly remembers losing in penalties during the Class AA state soccer final his senior year of high school with the Bozeman Hawks.
“It’s so clear and vivid in my mind losing in penalties, especially because I hadn’t even given up a goal the entire state tournament and saved the penalty in the semifinal. That’s probably one of my biggest memories was saving that penalty late in the game -- 80th minute -- to get us into the finals. I think that’s the only penalty shootout I’ve ever lost, was that state finals," Lubin said.
Losing in penalties isn’t the only thing that will stick with Lubin forever. His giant tattoo of the state of Montana will, as well, a reminder of where his heart will always be rooted.
"You can’t ever forget where you came from," he said. "I’m super proud to be from Montana and I’ll always wear it on a badge of honor and it will be with me forever."