Zac MacMath learned a plethora of lessons following his first full season as a starting goalkeeper in Major League Soccer.
But the Philadelphia Union goalkeeper may have learned even more after a training stint with English Premier League club Everton, specifically with United States national team starting goalkeeper Tim Howard.
“We spent a lot of time, probably spent more time off the field than on the field,” MacMath told philadelphiaunion.com last Friday in a wide-ranging interview at PPL Park. “I'd like to say I took a lot away from all parts of it, picking his brain about diet, nutrition and travel … anything in life. It was good to be with someone with so much experience.”
While MacMath trained with Everton and goalkeeper coach Chris Woods, it was the hours alongside Howard that resonated most.
“I picked up a lot and every year I’ve gone over there, there’s something new I pick up,” said MacMath, who spent his third offseason training alongside Howard. “He’s no different than any goalkeeper in the world. There’s always pressure on him. He’s the national team goalkeeper and he’s played amazing for both club and country. There’s still pressure on him and he still gets criticized for every little thing he does. Just realizing that and understanding that makes me look back and say, ‘Well, if he can do it and people say things about him then I can handle it just as well.’”
MacMath had a lot to discuss with Howard.
After all, it was a roller-coaster type of season for the former star at the University of Maryland and the Union’s No. 5 overall pick in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft.
There was a pair of concussions, the first serious injuries ever encountered by MacMath. There was the coaching change from Peter Nowak to John Hackworth in June. There was the difficulty of struggling through a tough season, which included 17 losses as a starter.
Through it all, MacMath kept working. And learning. It’s the way he’s built.
Let’s start with the concussions.
“I wouldn’t say it scared me,” MacMath said. “I was just more upset it was taking me away from playing. And I wasn’t scared to get another one or the effects of it. I was more upset that I wasn’t able to go out and play soccer and help my team. I think it makes me almost 10 times as strong mentally, and goalkeeping is more mental than it is physical. It’s something I’ll take into next season, all those experiences into one and take it all in.”
How about losing 17 games after going 3-0-4 as a rookie?
“It was very challenging,” MacMath said. “I probably lost more games last year than I ever have in my career. Probably high school, college, youth national team … I’ve never lost that many games. It was tough. I hate losing. I’m a very competitive person. It was tough, very tough.
“It was more taxing than I thought, especially as the season went on. The results didn’t go our way, I think was the hardest part when you’re not winning a game for six or seven games, it’s hard to try to get back into it and get that win. It’s pretty taxing.”
That was then.
Hackworth was given the full-time position as team manager and the club will certainly look a little bit different in 2013. Soon after the season-ending 3-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls, MacMath had his exit interview with Hackworth.
“It was pretty short and sweet,” MacMath said. “They told me how they thought I did this year and asked me how I thought I did and what they look forward to and what my plans are. I think both sides were pretty happy with it.”
MacMath is happy to have a little break away from soccer. When the calendar flips to 2013, you’d better believe he’ll be all in.
“Right now I’m in a stage of staying away from soccer for the next couple weeks and staying more in the gym, that side of staying in shape and getting stronger,” he said. “A couple weeks before preseason, I’ll start getting back into the soccer part of it.
“I haven’t really started to think too much about preseason, probably won’t until the schedule comes out, but I definitely think it will help me a lot more knowing months in advance I’m the starting keeper.
“I’ll try to take the things I learned from last season and start from the beginning, knowing I still have a long 10, 11-month season and take things a little bit more slow and gradually get into it right before the season starts and just get going.”
In the meantime, MacMath does need to focus on his body. It’s how you prepare in the offseason that separates the great players from the good ones.
“I think it’s nutrition and discipline to your body that are so important,” MacMath said. “It’s very easy to go out and drink and eat a lot of food and do things you couldn’t do during the season. This is something I’ve always prided myself in doing, especially during the offseason. I think it’s a good opportunity to get stronger and work on things you can’t do during the season. It’s very important to keep that discipline and these are things I talked about with Tim Howard. You have to watch your diet and nutrition year-round.”
To stay sharp mentally, MacMath continues to take online business administration classes for Penn State University.
“Yes, I’m still doing two classes right now,” MacMath said. “I probably need between eight and 11 classes total. It’s nice sometimes and it’s annoying other times, depends what the workload is that week from school and what the workload is during the season. It’s been good, kept my mind sharp, gave me something to do in the offseason. I’ll probably try to stick to two classes because it’s not too much and enough to get done what I need to get done. It’s good all around because it keeps my mind sharp.”
When the Union open the 2013 regular season, their fourth in MLS, MacMath will be rested and ready mentally and physically.
“It was a rough season for my first starting season, but I picked up a lot of things,” MacMath said. “I saw a lot of valuable experiences and hopefully will take all of it into the rest of my career. I know when next season comes around, I’ll take what I learned and use all of it. I’ll be ready. I’m going to take a little break now, and when it’s time, I’ll be ready to go and I’m sure my teammates will be as well.”
Contact Union writer Andy Jasner at email@example.com. Follow Andy on Twitter @andyjasner