VANCOUVER, B.C. — There’s nowhere to hide as a goalkeeper when things go wrong.
And things went as wrong as they could for Jay Nolly and the Vancouver Whitecaps last Saturday as they fell 4-0 to D.C. United. While the team played one of its worst matches of the season, especially by conceding three goals in a second-half capitulation, the performance was punctuated by Nolly’s error for the second goal of the match, conceded just after halftime.
“I think it was just an awkward play,” Nolly told MLSsoccer.com after practice on Tuesday. “It’s a bad goal for me to give up — it was the downfall of the second half.”
The error comes at a particularly bad time for Nolly individually. While he was the No. 1 choice under former coach Teitur Thordarson at the start of the season, the Florida native has found himself restricted to only three competitive appearances since current head coach Tom Soehn took the reins in late May.
“It came at the wrong time — I got [my starting spot back] and had an opportunity, and I let an awkward one in and didn’t help myself out,” Nolly said. “You just have to move on. It’s difficult for me to take. ‘Keepers are harder on themselves and I’m disappointed I let the team down.”
Nolly’s position is a cruel one. Unlike outfield players, substitution appearances for goalkeepers are rare, and when there is an established starter, it is not unheard of for a ‘keeper to go an entire season without seeing a minute of league action.
Goalkeeping coach Marius Røvde is familiar with the trials and tribulations of netminding, having played in Norway’s top flight and the Scottish Premier League.
“I’ve been there,” Røvde said. “If there are too many changes back and forth, maybe the one who’s chasing as a No. 2 is maybe more insecure — he is trying to convince every time, so he might do things he normally wouldn’t do.”
It’s not a simple issue of individual consistency, though, as the team’s inability to consistently put out the same defensive lineup has certainly exacerbated the club’s struggles. Notably, defenders Jay DeMerit and Alain Rochat have missed extensive time due to injuries which has made for a very unstable defensive structure.
“It’s not only the goalkeepers,” Røvde explained. “It’s the whole team and the chemistry between the back four and the goalkeepers. That hasn’t been found this season — the back four and the goalkeepers haven’t been keeping clean sheets very often, and then we have been testing different formations as well.”
Indeed, DeMerit and Rochat have only started eight matches together this season because of the pair’s injury struggles.
“We haven’t had a set back four for the whole season,” DeMerit explained on Tuesday. “We haven’t had a set 11 for the whole season. You look at our best performances when we’ve kept clean sheets, it hasn’t been just the back four that’s played well, or the ‘keeper, it’s been the 11.”
Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter: @martinmacmahon