It’s not easy replacing a legend. But that’s OK for Houston’s Tally Hall – he doesn’t shirk the difficult path.
Hall is slated to be the Houston Dynamo’s No. 1 goalkeeper this year. It’s a spot he’s earned, and a spot he intends to keep.
It’s also a spot that’s been owned by Pat Onstad, arguably the greatest keeper in MLS history and inarguably the most decorated. Onstad won two MLS Cups with Houston and one in San Jose before the franchise moved. He won a Supporters’ Shield in 2005 with the Quakes, the last team to break 60 points in a MLS season.
He won MLS Goalkeeper of the Year twice – he was the second to have done so – and was generally a brick wall of professionalism and resilience that came to symbolize a team built on those characteristics.
So you’d think Hall, who’d been Onstad’s backup for two years, and spent the 24 months prior to that as a back-up in Denmark, would be fazed.
“In my personality I guess I kind of like to experience new things,” Hall told MLSsoccer.com. “I don’t mind it. And I’d be happy, with no regrets, staying for the rest of my career with Houston.”
So much for pressure.
Hall, as it turns out, already has some highlights in Dynamo orange. Despite being Onstad’s backup, the heavy schedule Houston have played – with the CONCACAF Champions League and SuperLiga in addition to US Open Cup and MLS action – gave Hall several chances to show his best to the Texian Army and El Batallón faithful.
[inline_node:330733]In fact, Hall lists his best soccer moment as last July’s 2-1 win over Pachuca, CONCACAF’s team of the decade, in the SuperLiga.
“A lot of it was close-in stuff where the defender is cutting down half the goal, and I kind of come out and cut down the other half,” Hall said after that game. “The goalkeepers’ coach always tells you to stay big. And if I fall down it makes it easy for them. So I just try to stay on my feet and make them beat me, and for the most part I thought I put myself in good spots and they kicked it at me for the most part. That was nice of them.”
A Different Breed
As you may have guessed by now, it turns out that not much fazes Hall. The big, 6-foot-4-inch 25-year-old is alternately laid back and competitive. He’s also, according to Dynamo goalkeeper coach Tim Hanley, a little “off.”
“All goalkeepers are weird, and he’s got his own parts of that, but it’s in a manageable way,” Hanley explained. “They’re a little off. I mean, who picks that position? Who lets somebody shoot a ball at them?”
Hall doesn’t deny that keepers are a different breed.
“It’s a funny thing being a 'keeper,” Hall said. “Brad Davis was making fun of me because I saved a penalty [last week against Columbus in a friendly], and everyone came up to kind of give me a high five and say, ‘Good job.’ And the first thing that was on my mind was, ‘They’ve got a corner kick right now, we have to be prepared to deal with this next attack.’
“So I pushed him off and he wasn’t expecting it, and he kind of stumbled. And he kind of looked at me like, ‘What are you doing? I was coming over to say good job.’ We smiled about it later, but sometimes, that’s just how being a goalkeeper is.”
Hall’s example is an insight not only into how he approaches his time on the pitch, but how he approaches his job as a whole. The Washington state native lives in the moment, a crucial trait for someone doing a job where a short memory is often an asset.
“Look, you make a good save and now it’s a corner kick,” said the San Diego State graduate. “That last save doesn’t matter if they score on the corner. Maybe when referees decide you get a minute break to celebrate a penalty kick, I’ll celebrate, but until then it’s kind of a different beast being a goalkeeper. I won’t argue that point at all.”
And then after a pause: “I’m cool with that.”
The Ultimate Understudy
While the on-field applications of that mentality are obvious and myriad, there are just as many off-the-field avenues for Hall to apply his philosophy. One in particular is his attitude toward the gym.
“I know for me, personally, I do not like going to the gym after training,” Hall said. “So I know myself, I know my body and what I have to do, so I’ll wake up and go to the gym before training just so I get it in. Sometimes you’ve gotta make sacrifices.
“Maybe it’s just me, but I know I’m not good enough to go home and lay down on the couch. You can’t fall into the trap of thinking you can just show up and get the job done. You’ve got to put work in to better yourself. You can’t be happy with just getting by.”
That attitude is part of what earned the trust of both Hanley and the man with the ultimate call, Dynamo head coach Dom Kinnear.
[inline_node:330732]“He never sulked, he always worked hard,” Kinnear said of Hall’s years understudying Onstad. “I think he kind of understood what was happening, and that showed a level of maturity. Some guys expect to play, or want to play and make it difficult for others – and themselves – and he never did that. He always handled himself well under pressure and never got rattled.”
That willingness to work toward an end goal is something Hanley highlighted as well.
“Tally’s not entitled,” Hanley said. “I think a lot of kids who come up, who come through today, they’re maybe not as tough as they should be. He never showed that. He’s never expected anything to be given to him, and for me, that’s what I like to see.”
Dynamo fans will probably like what they see as well. For a team used to winning, 2010 was a brutal season that they’d as soon put in the rearview mirror. Hall, for his part, is willing to play any role, no matter how large or small, to see that they do just that.
“Every goalkeeper has to be ready to go 89 minutes of nothing, and then have 30 seconds or a minute of excitement,” Hall said. “If that happens, and I don’t get scored on, then I’ll look back with fondness.
“But if I could help it, I’d be bored for 90 minutes and we’d win 3-0 every game. I don't want to make 10 saves every game, even though if I did I'm sure I'd be in a lot more newspapers. I'll just stand in the background and put the championship ring on.”