CHESTER, Pa. – It wasn’t until the 2012 preseason was already underway when Zac MacMath learned he would replace Faryd Mondragón as the Philadelphia Union’s starting goalkeeper.
Publically, it was something that MacMath handled well. But one year later, Union manager John Hackworth believes the Philly ’keeper is now in a much better situation – especially as he gears up for the 2013 campaign by training with Tim Howard and Everton of the English Premier League for the third straight year.
“This is the first time he will have an offseason where he knows he’s the No. 1 going into the preseason,” Hackworth said. “For him to be with Tim Howard, who he has a really good relationship with, is important. It’s a great situation for Zac training with Everton.”
Hackworth said that he thought MacMath played well in his first full season as an MLS starter, but added that training with Everton for the third time will only improve the 21-year-old’s game.
In general, the Union manager noted that these kind of overseas stints, when done right, are beneficial to some young players.
“It’s one of those philosophical questions of whether it’s important for players to go on offseason training stints,” Hackworth said. “It’s really for every individual. We had a long season … and it’s tough on these guys. For most of them, they need some kind of break. But there are players that will benefit from a training stint abroad.”
In addition to MacMath, one of those players is teenager Cristhian Hernández, who played only 26 minutes all season. The club announced this week that Hernández will train with the Spanish side Real Sociedad.
“We have some pretty good relationships with clubs abroad and Real Sociedad is certainly one of those,” Hackworth said. “[Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz] had been over there and had some conversations. So it was just a great opportunity to send one of our guys.”
Besides from MacMath and Hernández, Hackworth said that more players will likely go overseas this offseason – “but not a ton,” he added.
“It’s mostly some younger guys who need that experience,” the Union manager said. “We want players to go out this time of year, when they’re still fit, and go into a training environment and be successful in that opportunity. Then we want them to shut it down for a little while and take a true offseason break.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at email@example.com.