Goalkeeper Week

Goalkeeper Week: MLS 'keepers dish on how they got their start in net

For a youngster starting out in soccer, goalkeeper isn’t exactly the most natural position.

Kids tend to gravitate towards the attacking spots, with the rush of scoring often winning out over the thankless, tedious tasks of a goalkeeper. As a result, many ‘keepers have somewhat unusual origin stories. We asked a few MLS goalies just how they got their start in net, who they looked up to at the position and who taught them the most about being a goalkeeper.

Check out the results below:

What was your inspiration for becoming a goalkeeper?

David Ousted, Vancouver Whitecaps: “There wasn’t any until I was pushed in there. I think I was 13 and our ‘keeper got injured. I was playing striker and I was the tallest on the team at the time so they put me in there, which I wasn’t happy with, but it ended up turning out OK.”

Clint Irwin, Toronto FC: “It’s tough to say. I grew up playing in the field and I was kind of always the backup goalkeeper and I got thrown in when our starting goalkeeper got injured and from there, I don’t know, you just kind of grow to love it. You like being the last guy and having decisive effect on the game. It was just always something I was drawn to. I was always just happy to be in goal and it felt like that’s where I belonged on the field.”

Joe Willis, Houston Dynamo: “I had an older brother and we had a goal in the backyard and we used to play in the backyard all the time and since I was the younger one he used to throw me back there, so that’s how I first started getting into it. I just started to like it and as I got older I just kept asking to go back there. I think because I’m so tall and I was tall when I was younger, coaches started seeing that too and were throwing me back there, also. So I think it was a combination of having an older brother and just being the biggest kid on the team.”

Andre Blake, Philadelphia Union: “That’s a tough question. I would say when I was smaller, growing up I would always mess around by going in the goal and I would always get great feedback. I just thought that maybe since I’m getting all this great feedback it’s something that I should take seriously. That’s how it all started.”

David Bingham, San Jose Earthquakes: “I grew up on the sidelines watching my sister play in goal and just kind of followed in her footsteps.”

Sean Johnson, Chicago Fire: "I always wanted to be a player on the field who could directly impact the result of a match and help my team win. When given the opportunity to play goalkeeper for the first time at 12-years-old, I never looked back."

What goalkeeper did you look up to the most?

Ousted: “At the time it was [Danish goalkeeping legend] Peter Schmeichel, the “Great Dane.” He was fantastic. At the time I think he was the best goalkeeper in the world and I spent a lot of time watching him.

“There’s a lot I admire, there’s a lot of good goalkeepers in the world right now. To name a few: Manuel Neuer, Joe Hart, [Thibaut] Courtois, guys like that are always fun to watch to see what kind of saves they can come up with.”

Irwin: “It was obviously more the American guys, Brad Friedel, Kasey Keller or some of the guys that you see playing in Europe that are American and are going to be some of the guys that you look up to. Outside of that, I think [ex-Manchester United and Dutch national team ‘keeper] Edwin van der Sar was someone that I liked watching just because we have similar body types, I liked how cool he was in the goal and he’s probably one of the best goalkeepers ever, too.”

Willis: “When I was younger my top two were Oliver Kahn and Edwin van der Sar. Both were excellent ‘keepers. Van der Sar’s a tall, lanky guy like me and Manchester United was my favorite team growing up, so he was definitely one I looked up to. Kahn obviously is a German legend and just a maniac of a human being, so he was my favorite when I was younger and as I got a little older it was van der Sar.”

Blake: “When I was growing up it was Edwin van der Sar. Right now I like Manuel Neuer and [David] de Gea.”

Bingham: “Probably Brad Friedel and Kasey Keller, they were kind of in their prime with the US team, so I was always watching them.”

Johnson: "I looked up to Edwin van der Sar the most out of any goalkeeper. I was impressed by how easy he made the position look. I always tried to emulate him and get to be a top-level goalkeeper."

Who taught you the most about goalkeeping?  

Ousted: “I had a youth goalkeeping coach that taught me a lot, mostly on the mental side of it. The kind of game that you play as a goalkeeper, you can be inactive for longer periods of time and suddenly you have to react and come up with that world-class save to kind of get you those points. So he’s been a big influence on me and he started me young on the path I’m on now.”

Irwin: “Probably my coach growing up. His name’s Bill Finneyfrock, he’s still around, he was my goalkeeper coach at Charlotte United. Him with another guy named Eric Hedinger were the two guys who I just trained a lot with them growing up. Really it wasn’t as much the technical side of things, it was more the mental side of things. I would go to these camps in South Carolina in the middle of summer where its 100 degrees out and you’re on the field for three sessions a day – you learn what it takes to not make mistakes and to be tuned in all the time. If you’re not, they’ll let you know. For me, that’s where I became a goalkeeper, those summers out there; I feel like that was a big part of my makeup as a goalkeeper.”

Willis: “There’s definitely a few. When I was younger my club goalie coach he was a big, big part of my growth as a goalkeeper. He was my first real goalkeeper coach, his name’s Tim Kelly for Scott Gallagher back in St. Louis. I had him for a good six or seven years when I was younger and he was a great coach for me. He was very knowledgeable about the position, relatable and demanded a lot. I think he was my first real goalkeeper coach and it was kind of a new position for me so to have someone demand a lot out of you was a little bit of a wake-up call I think for me, but it definitely paid off in the long run.”

Blake: “I’d probably go back to when I was younger, I worked with this goalkeeper coach by the name of Clive Willerburn who was very good. He was all about technique and I think he kind of helped me lay the foundation to build on.”

Bingham: “I think you take little bits and pieces from each coach you work with and then you can learn a lot more that way.”

Johnson: "I would say that Tim Mulqueen and Aron Hyde were the two most influential coaches when it comes to my development. Mulqueen was my under-20 coach who gave me my first insight to the technical side of things and Aron was my goalkeeper coach my first six years as a professional. He helped me mature in my early years and always pushed me to get better. I can't say enough about what he has done for my development. Lastly, Tim Howard is a player that's directly impacted me the most. Spending many offseasons with him learning alongside him when he was at Everton and being able to bounce any question or situation by him and he never hesitated to help me out.