Reducing goalie's saves is Yetso goal

Howard At Play

October 27, 2002|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

No player in soccer performs in such extreme ways.

Your team's better offensively? Then your keeper, as they like to be called, gets ignored - may not even touch the ball for seemingly endless minutes at a time. But, careful! Many a dominant team has lost on merely one or two shots that develop out of nothing.

Other team's better offensively? Your keeper may go home with not only some flashy saves but also battered, bruised, scored upon and hoarse from bossing his defensive teammates.

Unknowing teammates, usually the very young, and many parents still learning the sport, view the goalkeeper as a team's main defender. Wrong. The keeper is merely the final player on defense, not the only one. Even the world's best keepers are often left helpless by well-executed play and shoddy play by a defensive teammate.

"You have to be tough mentally. You're either the hero or the goat, it sometimes seems, but you're covering a space that makes it virtually impossible to always stop the other team from scoring," says Brock Yetso, 25, a goalkeeping standout at Centennial High School, in club ball, and then at the University of Virginia. He got trials and trips with U.S. under-17, under-20 and under-23 national teams.

Yetso tried pro ball briefly, then gave up, he said, because of "getting kicked in the head one too many times," back problems and "a review of priorities" after his mother's death.

Not only is he running his Soccer Academy for the Soccer Association of Columbia/Howard County, he is a volunteer assistant for Towson University's women's team and works in Maryland's Olympic Development Program.

Coaching, he thinks, will be important in his future.

Think a keeper who ends a game with, say, 15 or 16 saves is great? Maybe, but probably not. That usually means something's wrong, win or lose. Organizations that train goalkeepers, such as Yetso's young academy, teach that too many saves means, probably, you're either not commanding your defenders properly or, sometimes, your defense needs serious attention from the coach in terms of better skills or athletes.

"It's a unique position," says Yetso, who began goalkeeping at 9 and now looks for capability in "communicating and decision-making," not pure athletic skill, in his Soccer Association of Columbia/Howard County students, who range in age from 9 to 14. "It's a very mental position."

Indeed. When to hold position or charge an attacker, summoning courage to dive at an attacker's feet as a shot is taken, whether to punch or tip a shot or catch it, soaring physically with attackers (and teammates) on critical free kicks or throw-ins within striking distance - they're all part of a keeper's skills.

Why a goalkeeping academy? "It's difficult to become a keeper because so many youth coaches don't know anything about the position," Yetso says. "It requires specialized training, and I was lucky. I had Mike Curry [longtime SAC/HC coach and former goalkeeper]. When Mike moved [to Pennsylvania], I just began to think it might be a good time to help younger players the way I was helped."

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