Zac MacMath has suddenly become adept at the most difficult task in soccer - stopping penalty kicks. What is interesting is that the Union keeper says that before this year, this wasn't a strong part of his game.
During Saturday's 2-1 loss at Seattle, MacMath stopped his third penalty kick in three tries this season for the 1-4-5 Union.
"Until this year, I didn't think I was good in penalty kicks," MacMath said. "This year has been good, and hopefully it can continue throughout my career."
According to the Union, through the Elias Sports Bureau, MacMath needs just one more penalty-kick save to tie the Major League Soccer season record held by D.J. Countess in 2003 with the Dallas Burn (now FC Dallas).
"Obviously you don't ever want to get in that situation where you are giving up a lot of penalty kicks, but I have been fortunate to make three saves, and I am trying to keep the team in the game as much as possible; that is my goal," MacMath said.
MacMath has benefited from video study of potential penalty kickers with coach Rob Vartughian before each game.
Now in his third full season as the Union's starter and fourth with the team, the 22-year-old MacMath has played every minute this season after doing the same last year.
He is a bright spot on a team struggling for sustained offense.
The Union have scored just twice in the last four games, on a penalty kick in a 2-1 loss to New York and last week on an own goal against Seattle.
They have 10 goals in their 10 games, and MacMath admitted there is added pressure on the defense when the offense struggles.
"When you are not scoring goals, you know you can't let in goals to give us a chance of getting a point at least," MacMath said. "It's been difficult on the defense."
Union manager John Hackworth said the Union need to build off MacMath's performances, something that has yet to happen.
"Zac kept us in a real high-level game on Saturday with an excellent save, and he has had an excellent year," Hackworth said. "We need other guys to feed off of him so collectively as a team we are more consistent and playing from the first whistle to the last."
It won't be easy Saturday when the Union host a vastly improved D.C. United team at 4 p.m.
United is 3-3-2, and has already matched its win total from last year.
While there is plenty of time left in this 34-game season, MacMath said there is an urgency to reverse their fortunes.
"I think we are running out of time when we say it's a little early," MacMath said. ". . . We know it only takes one game, one goal, one touch of the ball to really turn the season around."