In trying to keep peace, hits come from all sides

Goalkeepers: Throwing themselves between the ball and the net is what they are asked to do. But that's only a fraction of the physical shots they take.

September 03, 2002|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,SUN STAFF

Scott McGuire, No one regards soccer as a sport better suited for the X Games. But goalkeepers face a similar type of extreme physical danger.

During the course of play, Severna Park goalkeeper Scott McGuire has been kicked in the face, the head, the stomach, gotten a concussion from hitting his head on the post and broken a pinky finger.

The diving saves, the leaping punch-outs in heavy traffic and the sliding tackles of onrushing opponents all involve a degree a danger that requires a fearless personality.

McGuire, whose inspired play in the Class 3A championship game lifted his team to the state title last season, has that personality -- and then some.

He thinks you have to be a little crazy to play such a demanding, dangerous and often thankless position. And it also helps if you're big.

At 6 feet 2 and 195 pounds, McGuire is imposing.

"Most strikers don't like to hit me because I'm big," McGuire said. "You definitely have to learn to take care of yourself."

The former baseball player also thinks goalkeepers have to be loud so they can control the 18-yard box.

"You're the general. You can see the whole game. Everyone must hear you," he said. "If you're shy, you're in the wrong position."

Loud and crazy aside, goalkeepers have a host of other job specifications.

The ability to read the game is essential, and that's one of the strengths of McDonogh's Alex Horwath -- along with his aggressiveness.

Horwath is 6-3, 180 pounds and has been a state Olympic Development Program team member for four years and regional ODP team member for two years. The sophomore started last season for McDonogh, the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association runner-up.

"The goalkeeper is the most important player on the field because everything starts from the back. It's a physically demanding position that requires a lot of technique," said Horwath, who also plays basketball for McDonogh. He has broken a thumb, dislocated a pinky and received many a kick in the head while defending the net.

"You also have to be mentally stronger than the other players," he said.

The mental toughness comes from standing in the goal for long periods of inaction, and then suddenly having to make a play that decides the outcome.

Staying calm under fire is crucial for goalkeepers.

"I used to think that everything was my fault and hated giving up a goal," Horwath said. "I learned that you can't get frantic after giving up a goal, or else your teammates will also get frantic."

Greg Boone, Calvert Hall's returning senior goalkeeper, thinks that footwork, confidence, fearlessness, quick decision-making, and knowing how to play the angles are all essential components of a good goalkeeper, but that the simple things are the most important.

"You have to be able to catch the ball hit right at you," said Boone, a former tennis player. "Most goalkeepers worry about making the big diving save at the end of the game, but it's no good if you can't make the simple save."

River Hill coach Bill Stara, a former goalkeeper himself, thinks that good hand-to-eye coordination is most essential. "The goalkeeper is one of your top athletes. He directly influences the game's outcome. He usually has a different mentality -- someone who is very confident and can recharge quickly. You can go a long way in high school with a good one."

Stara, whose teams at Centennial and River Hill have combined for a record 10 state titles, thinks that goalkeeping is an art.

But it's an art few people appreciate. "If your team loses, the goalkeeper usually gets blamed," Stara said. "If it wins, the guy who scores gets the credit."

That's why Stara believes there's a fraternity among goalkeepers. "You rarely hear a goalkeeper criticize another goalkeeper, because they know what the other guy has to go through."

McGuire, Horwath and Boone share one other thing in common -- none of them initially were good field players, a defect that led to their becoming goalkeepers, but a fault they later remedied.

"I don't ever remember playing the field," McGuire said. "But a goalkeeper needs the same foot skills as the field players."

Stara agrees. "You can't be afraid to play the ball back to the goalkeeper."

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