Keepers losers, hands down

Soccer: With the NPSL's new rule against handling back-passes, the job just got a lot tougher for the Blast's Scott Hileman and his fellow guardians of the goal.

October 06, 1999|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

The decision-makers in the NPSL figured it would be best to make life tougher for those who attempt to play defense in indoor soccer.

In an effort to promote even more scoring in the game, a goalkeeper can no longer pick the ball up if a defender plays it back to him. The change will help aggressive forwards lurking to pounce on any mistake, while hurting keepers who have problems receiving the ball with their feet.

"Hopefully, our foot skills are there," Blast goalkeeper Scott Hileman said. "Our foot skills have to be up close to par with the field players now. We have to try and do the best we can. We're not getting the ball in our hands, so the premium is now on our feet as opposed to our arm."

The main effect the rule change will probably have is an increase in poor clearances, a problem the Blast had last season under the old rules with keeper Khalil Azmi.

Trading with Florida for Hileman, who has a stronger arm than Azmi, late in the season looked as if would eliminate some of the clearance problems. And it still may, as long as Hileman can make clean catches on a fair number of the rocket shots sent his way.

"The key this year is going to be goalkeepers catching the ball," Blast coach Kevin Healey said.

"I think they're trying to add additional excitement to the game. And it's going to. It's going to create some really hectic plays toward the goal.

"Feet skills are more important now, also, because they're going to get balls played back to them in tight situations to play the ball out."

That's one of the things Healey likes in Hileman, who was second-team All-NPSL after having a 10.09 goals-against average in the 1997-98 season.

He has the advantage of having a full training camp and preseason with the Blast after going 4-4 with a 12.75 average late last season.

Hileman, 27, is in his fourth season in the NPSL, having spent the first two with Edmonton.

Healey said his presence, along with backup David Tenney, who is in his second year with the team, strengthens a position that was a weakness in the past.

"I think Scott is truly one of the outstanding goalkeepers in the league," Healey said. "He physically is good. He's a good shot blocker with a good arm.

"And on top of that, mentally he knows the game really well. He has several years of experience in indoors. He's very confident in himself, and that confidence helps in communication with the players."

Communication is one of the areas the Blast is focusing on during camp. Hileman is working closely with his defenders outside of match situations, something he did not have the chance to do last season.

Hileman, 6 feet 1, 185 pounds, played at the University of Portland, where he was an Academic All-American for the 1994-95 season.

"The job of a goalkeeper first is to be consistent," Hileman said. "My two goals are to be consistent and stay healthy. If I do that, then I think I'm doing my job. And as long as I do my job, I think we have a good chance.

"It's a tough transition for goalkeepers from outdoor to indoor. I'm used to it. You know you're going to get scored on. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter how many goals I let in as long as we win.

"I just have to worry about saving the ones I should and some that I shouldn't and not let any easy ones get by; then I'm doing my job."

Tenney will get his chances to relieve Hileman at times. The Blast has two stretches of three matches in four days, and three straight matches in February.

The 6-foot, 190-pounder went 2-3 last season with a 15.22 average, playing in seven matches. Tenney, 30, played at Virginia Tech, where he was Metro Conference Defensive Player of the Year in 1989.

"I'm here to contribute to the team when I can, and that's my role," Tenney said.

"Really, I have no problems with that role. I know that my time is going to come, like it did last year. I'll get in my games. Whether it's five games or 20 games, I don't know. Either way, I'll be ready."

Healey said he has confidence in Tenney, who has many of the same attributes as Hileman. Both read the game well and have experience playing indoor.

"What we did was turn what was unfortunately a weakness of the team at the beginning of last year into a strength of the team," Healey said.

"I definitely expect leadership skills out of them. I want them to communicate to the team how they feel comfortable in defensive alignment."

As for how the rule change will effect his keepers, Healey said their experience and mental toughness should lessen the burden of the increased responsibility.

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