It takes big shoulders to wear the skinniest number

I watched  the aftermath of Clint Dempsey’s goal with mixed emotions. To me, this draw against England, 1 – 1 at the highest level of international play, is worth many months of heavy therapy. Our success, or England’s failure, wipes decades of British smirks from my memory. As England’s St, George famously slayed a dragon and became the symbol of English football, the USA has slain St. George today.

Unfortunately, everyone blames Robert Green. I can’t partake of their schadenfreude, and I can’t accept that we drew the match “because Green failed to save an easy shot.”

But it does bring me to the point of this post. As many have said, the goalkeeper is the player whose errors hurt the team the most. Forwards can miss open goals, as Govou did for France. Midfielders can struggle with their markers, like Ricardo Clark did in letting Gerrard slip in to score. Defenders can even miss their assignments as South Africa did in allowing Márquez to score for Mexico.  They won’t make the headline. Goalkeepers will.

If you wear #1, your errors are epic.

All goals are the result of errors.

I have played goalkeeper throughout my salad days, from A. P. Giannini Junior High through college at Cal. I’ve made some great plays and some horrible ones. In 1973 I let an easy shot through my legs on Beach Chalet #1, west goal, in the first minute of the second half, Lowell v. Washington. In 1975 at Cal, I ran out of the box to clear a through ball, only to get stuck between two ideas and the ball rolled past me for a tap-in. That was at CSU Hayward I think. At Stanford I once cleared with my foot and slammed the ball into a forward; the rebound did not favor me and he finished in for an easy score.

I remember all these mistakes, and more. Space doesn’t allow me to list them all.

I have seen goalkeepers I coached break down in tears over goals they have conceded. Others turn pale at the suggestion that they go back into goal. Brazil’s goalkeeper for their infamous 1950 World Cup loss to Uruguay, Moacir Barbosa Nascimento, never got his life back. He once said,

“Even a criminal when he has served his time, and paid his debt, is forgiven. But I have never been forgiven.”

This is why I tell my goalkeepers, even though the numeral “1” is the skinniest of them all,  they need big shoulders to wear the #1 shirt. After I wrote this, Tim Howard said in the NYT,

“This ball’s doing silly things, unfortunately, at this level, those things happen. I feel terribly for him, but with goalkeeping, you have to have broad shoulders.”

Before they practice catching, positioning, diving, distribution, free kick defense, PKs, collecting crosses or communicating with the back four, they need to practice mental toughness. After the game Green said “It’s obviously a horrible mistake, a terrible mistake, I’ll have to recover from it.” It is impossible to eliminate errors and their errors usually go straight on to the scoreboard, so you have to harden yourself to it.

If you can’t accept the fact that any error on your part may cost your team the game, you are better off never wearing the contrasting shirt . That to me is the risk — and the fun — of playing between the sticks. Robert Green did not cost England the game, but people will say he did. He knows this and accepts it. Because he’s a ‘keeper.

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6 Responses to It takes big shoulders to wear the skinniest number

  1. jaffa Dayan-Hall says:

    always love hearing your perspective on life but most definitely on soccer.
    thanks for sharing your insight.

  2. Margo says:

    I played keeper for Jim as well as sweeper and I’ll always remember his words to me before one of our first games, “You know what they call a sweeper error?” he asked. Me, “No.” Jim, “A goal.” In retrospect, that’s 100% true for a keeper, but probably only 50% true for a sweeper, because even when the sweeper screws up, the goalie can save his/her butt. When the goalie screws up, only Kristine Lilly can save her butt (overtime Women’s World Cup 1999). (I still want to know who made the heroic play in the goal for the US, which turns out not to have been heroic, because it was called offside, but it was a brilliant lay.) You get the drift.

  3. Lisa Monti says:

    Nicely said, Jim. You got the big shoulders and a big heart to boot!

  4. Scott Donohue says:

    I’ve been saying that he will live with this mistake for the rest of his life, but your post suggests I’m very wrong. If he is a great keeper, he is going to move past this moment and more credit to him if he does. You set the record straight on how we should think about the roles people play for their teams. Thanks, Jim!

  5. Pingback: Man bites dog moment | Jim's a keeper

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