The mood at Goodison Park was gloomy on Dec. 4 when hosts Everton FC dropped a 1-0 decision to Stoke City in front of 33,219 fans.
But for at least one person in attendance, just being able to soak in the spirit and atmosphere of an English Premier League game mattered more than the final score.
“You watch on TV all the time,” Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath told MLSsoccer.com by phone recently. “But when you’re really there, it’s a whole different experience.”
MacMath was at Goodison Park not only as a fan but also as a player getting in some valuable training time.
It was the second time MacMath went overseas to train with the EPL side, but the first time he did it in the midst of Everton’s regular season. That made the experience even more valuable for MacMath, who for part of his trip stayed with US national team and Everton 'keeper Tim Howard, his friend and mentor.
“It was good seeing how he goes through his pregame ritual and game day stuff,” MacMath said of Howard. “It was a very good experience my second time being there. It was nice seeing familiar faces and getting some good hard training in.”
Following his training stint with Everton, the 20-year-old MacMath stayed in Europe, where he met up with some of his MLS teammates and rivals in the Netherlands for the Generation adidas tour. Then the Union goalkeeper went directly to Florida for the recent US U-23 camp.
Only when that camp wrapped up this past Friday did MacMath get to stay in his home state of Florida and spend some time with his family for the holidays.
“I’ve been traveling around a lot but it’s been fun,” said MacMath, who’s coming off an impressive rookie season for the Union, when he went 3-0-4 while filling in for injured starter Faryd Mondragón. “I’m trying to stay as fit and sharp as possible.”
While extremely busy over the past month, MacMath didn’t get the call for the first U-23 camp, which was held in Germany from Nov. 7-16. The Union netminder admitted that was “a little bit of disappointment” but doesn’t make too much of it considering he’s now very much in the mix to make Caleb Porter’s U-23 Olympic squad.
And should he be one of the goalkeepers called upon to represent the US in next summer’s Olympics in London, he knows it will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The fact that the Summer Games are being held in the same country where he’s had the privilege to train and learn the game from some of the world’s elite players is an added bonus.
“It would mean everything to me personally and to my family,” MacMath said. “Watching the Olympics every four years with my family, it’s something every kid dreams about. Especially because it’s in London, where some of the best players in the world play, it would mean everything for me to be a part of that.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.