The Goalkeeper 5

SheerinI heard this book recommended on NPR this past week. It is Soccer in Sun and Shadow by Eduardo Galeano. It is a geat read, even better during the World Cup. Mack’s favorite player was Iker Casillas and yesterday was not a good day for the Spanish keeper. The Netherlands (whom the Brady Ladies were rooting for) exacted their revenge for the last World Cup Final by destroying Spain 5-1. Iker, who had not played much this year, Real Madrid relegating him to Champions League and Spanish Cup play, and his rust showed. The Netherlands wanted this game badly and Spain just wasn’t ready. In truth neither was our favorite net minder. Should he be replaced? I actually think not, I think more playing time will focus his skills and get him back in form faster than a fresh keeper off the bench. He really is, if not the best keeper, one of the top 3 in the world. But sometimes being the best goalkeeper really doesn’t matter.

Last night the New York Rangers lost the Stanley Cup in a double overtime loss 3-2 to the LA Kings. In that loss (notice I didn’t say Kings’ win?) Lundqvist played perhaps the greatest game of hockey a keeper has ever performed. Yet it didn’t matter. He let the winning puck fly past and with that the season is over. The best articles all point out that he did everything the Rangers needed (and that he and Quick, the LA goalie, were likely the best players on the ice) aside from go to the other end of the ice and score the goals that no one else on his team seemed interested in pursuing.

But that is the fate of a keeper. Their job is to be the last line of defense. He has to be beaten for the other team to win. There is a winner and a loser and while in soccer the winner is usually a striker, the loser is always a keeper.

The Goalkeeper
They also call him doorman, keeper, goalie, bouncer, or net-minder, but he could just as well be called martyr, pay-all, penitent, or punching bag. They say where he walks the grass never grows.

He is alone, condemned to watch the match from afar. Never leaving the goal, his only company the two posts and the crossbar, he awaits his own execution by firing squad. He used to dress in black, like the referee. Now the referee doesn’t have to dress like a crow and the goalkeeper can console himself in his solitude with colorful gear.

He does not score goals; he is there to keep them from being scored. The goal is soccer’s fiesta: the striker sparks delight and the goalkeeper, a wet blanket, snuffs it out.

He wears the number one on his back. The first to be paid? No, the first to pay. It is always the keeper’s fault. And when it isn’t, he still gets blamed. Whenever a player commits a foul, the keeper is the one who gets punished: they abandon him there in the immensity of the empty net to face his executioner alone. And when the team has a bad afternoon, he is the one who pays the bill, expiating the sins of others under a rain of flying balls.

The rest of the players can blow it once in a while, or often, and then redeem themselves with a spectacular dribble, a masterful pass, a well-placed volley. Not him. The crowd never forgives the goalkeeper. Was he drawn out by a fake? Left looking ridiculous? Did the ball skid? Did his fingers of steel turn to putty? With a single slip-up the goalie can ruin a match or lose a championship, and the fans suddenly forget all his feats and condemn him to eternal disgrace. Damnation will follow him to the end of his days.”

Excerpt From: Galeano, Eduardo. “Soccer in Sun and Shadow.” Byliner Inc., 2013. iBooks.

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Mack and John watching Iker Casillas playing for Real Madrid v. Celtic. Mack is wearing his Iker Spain jersey.

Mack and John watching Iker Casillas playing for Real Madrid v. Celtic. Mack is wearing his Iker Spain jersey.

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5 thoughts on “The Goalkeeper

  • abl12012

    I wish I could have known Mack, as he seemed to have some very special traits and talents at a very young age..I had the fun and very gratifying opportunity of coaching youth soccer (levels 4-5yr -12-13yr) when my two girls (now in college) played in the Centre Soccer Program. On the teams I coached, it was like pulling teeth to have kids be the keeper. They ALL wanted to score and NO ONE wanted to be assigned that “awful” position of goalie. Thank goodness I had a little leverage. As a Mom/ Coach, in times of desperation, I could use a bit of bribery with my daughters (I know, not good parenting skills, but sometimes that parenting book goes out the window in real life) as we HAD to have a goalie.

    The kids (not mine), usually at an older age, that DID want to be goalie were just a bit different and I use “different” in a positive way. Goalies, are typically; a bit more confident,humble, less fearful, and able to handle the unique stress and pressure. Goalies are not afraid to dive, to go head to head with players and/or balls coming straight at them, and to stare down a player about to take a penalty kick. More importantly goalies go right back into the action after a goal has been scored, or a cleat has clipped them in the head after confronting a striker, or coming back alert after a half where they did not touch the ball once.

    Goalies have to have all the skills and perhaps a few more than regular position soccer players. Yes, they do get to use their hands but they have to have the dexterity of a basketball or football player in catching or knocking a ball down. They have to have the hand eye coordination to judge how a ball may be coming into the net and the expert timing of when to jump or dive for a shot on goal .A goalkeeper is perhaps one of the most overlooked heroes of a winning soccer game where the focus is all on the strikers that made the goals. If one is looking for constant action every minute of a soccer game, every game, and loves attention and praises, the goalie spot probably is not the best position.

    As in all team sports, the outcome of any game; win or lose, should not be based on the play of one player, but the cumulative play of the team. It takes a special person to play goalie and at the competitive level, one with a thick skin and a solid sense of self. A goalie has to go through the games with little praise for wins, when more praise is deserved, and take more criticism for losses, when less is deserved. And if an important game is lost in the final game of the World Cup in a last minute goal that could not be saved, a goalie could be down right ostracized by his entire country( read about 1950 Brazil goalkeeper Moacyr Barbosa. ) Mom’s bribes can’t get one through being a goalkeeper at this level and one has to really love this special and vital role on a soccer team. Even though Mack was just a kid, he knew beyond his years about the special role of the keeper. Mack seemed to have such a rare love and passion for the goalie position and seemed to understand the importance of the position which required special athletic talents, a unique personality, as well as a role that is rarely rewarded for wins, but scrutinized for losses. Mack would have made a great goalie and he would have been a joy to watch!

  • Dan Sheerin

    Thanks very much for the insightful goalkeeper reflections, Chris. It got me thinking …

    As a one-time, long-time, dedicated, passionate goalkeeper who is now retired from actually playing the position, I was always intrigued by the term “No Goal Patrol.” As a young player, I first heard it used in describing the stalwart defense of the old Philadelphia Atoms NASL pro soccer team. (Here is an interesting article which mentions the No Goal Patrol in connection to the Atom’s keeper at the time, Bob Rigby, who was one of the first US soccer players to gain national media exposure: )

    And shortly after I started playing goalkeeper full-time, I found this “No Goal Patrol” phrase to be provocative for a few reasons, and I took the term to heart. At first I appreciated how the phrase captured the concept that the effort to defend the goal was undertaken by the team, and therefore not an task that fell to the goalkeeper alone.

    Nevertheless, I eventually came to feel that the term simultaneously spoke to the goalkeeper as an individual, as a specialized, solitary player, and as one who is in a sense often out there on the pitch all alone. In this regard, the phrase seemed interesting ironic, cleverly contradictory, and eccentrically inspiring. For the idea of a “No Goal Patrol” inherently appeals to all committed goalkeepers’ idiosyncratic and inherently impossible idealism. Indeed, such goalkeepers do not seek to achieve, for example, merely a very-low goals against average. Instead our real goal is to allow NO GOALS against our team at all, ever.

    Along these lines, perversely the words “no goal” alone when applied to a person would typically suggest that this individual has no commitment to anything. Yet when the word “patrol” is added to the phrase, this instead portrays a person willing to give his all to actively, bravely, selflessly pursue the ceaseless defense and flawless achievement of a vital mission, while flouting the fact that the mission itself will never be fully achievable — at least not on a soccer field.

    As I wrote in honor a young, brave goalkeeper:

    “For between the posts and crossbar
    He stood fast and knew no fear
    Then sparked his team move forward
    so must we ever persevere.”

  • Heather

    Interesting take on the goal keeper. I had a grade school friend who played goalie for state college high and then at pitt… When in high school dad and I went to go watch her play a game. When they won dad asked if she ever felt like she was the one who lost the game if the team did loose. She responded with no- her teammates reminded her time and time again that 10 other people had to make a mistake before she did- so it could never be one person’s fault. I thought it was a very team oriented outlook on the game and position.