As most of his teammates yanked their ties tight and tucked in their dress shirts after last Saturday's game at PPL Park, Zac MacMath stood in front of his locker in full uniform.
It would be easy to understand if he did not have the energy to pull it over his head. The Union are in the midst of a hectic stretch, and the goalkeeper has been one of their busiest players.
They play their third game in eight days Saturday when they host the Houston Dynamo at PPL Park at 4 p.m. The Union (1-2-4) are winless in their last five matches, but have kept afloat in the standings thanks to four ties.
The results could have been far worse without the play of MacMath, who at 22 started his 80th MLS game on Wednesday. MacMath has had strong stretches like this before, but entering his third season as starter, he is looking for a breakout year.
"Consistency," MacMath said Friday. "That's probably the big word that people use around me. I can have a good game then I'll have a bad game. I'm trying to eliminate those bad games and really just be... someone the team can rely on each game."
Collectively, the team's bad game came Wednesday in a 2-1 loss at the New York Red Bulls.
The offense failed to score - or generate many chances - during a more than 12-minute period with a man advantage. They fell into a 2-0 hole as defenders twice failed to mark an attacker, including the ever-dangerous Thierry Henry.
"It's really just mental lapses at this point," MacMath said. "We're playing well most of the game and we have a couple minutes when we're not 100 percent focused and that's when teams punish us."
More often than not, MacMath has been there to erase those miscues. He saved a penalty kick in stoppage time to preserve a tie against Chicago. Just six minutes into the next game, he faced another. He stopped that one, too.
MacMath ended up making five saves in the draw against Real Salt Lake last Saturday, earning praise from manager John Hackworth for keeping the Union in the game.
MacMath's good start comes in what could be a crossroads season. The Union traded up to the No. 1 overall pick to draft Jamaican goalkeeper Andre Blake in January. MacMath said the pair have learned from one another and pushed each other.
Hackworth hinted that with the Union twice playing three games in eight days - they have another such stretch early next month - that Blake may see action soon. MacMath and Blake alternated reps in the net near the end of Friday's training.
"It's not a question of us wanting to give Andre some minutes," Hackworth said last week. "But... Zac is playing so well that you don't want to say, 'Hey Zac, you're playing great... we're going to put you on the bench for the next game.' "
MacMath started all 34 games last season, and doing the same again would suit him just fine.
"I want to play every game," MacMath said. "I hope I never get a break."
Dynamo vs. Union
What: Major League Soccer, Houston Dynamo (2-3-0) at Union (1-2-4).
When: Saturday at 4 p.m.
Where: PPL Park in Chester.
TV: The Comcast Network.
Dynamo on the road: 0-2-0; Union at home 1-0-2:
Goals for: Dynamo 7; Union 9.
Goals against: Dynamo 8; Union 10.
Outlook: Houston came into the season with a rosy outlook that only grew brighter after winning its first two games. But the Dynamo have dropped three straight and have scored just three goals in their last 270-plus minutes. They failed to get a shot on goal in a 2-0 loss to New England last Saturday. Midfielder Brad Davis, a six-time MLS all-star who was recently called up the U.S. National team, is listed as doubtful with a right ankle sprain. The Union lost both games to Houston by a 1-0 score last season. The Union are winless in five games since a home-opening win over New England. Midfielder Maurice Edu has two goals in his last three games. He had five in his previous 38 MLS games with Toronto. - Tim McManusEndText