VANCOUVER, B.C. – It takes a brave coach to make a goalkeeping change for your playoff-bound team in the last month of the regular season. Even more so when the goalkeeper you're replacing has been a virtual ever present for you over the past four and a half seasons.
But that was the decision Vancouver Whitecaps' head coach Carl Robinson made at the end of September, making summer signing Stefan Marinovic his choice between the sticks over former MLS Goalkeeper of the Year contender David Ousted.
It was a decision that surprised many, as the New Zealand No. 1 played three of Vancouver's last four regular season matches. The last of those, Sunday's 2-1 loss in Portland, cost Vancouver a first place finish in the West, with the Timbers first goal coming off a Marinovic error.
It would have been easy for Robinson to make the switch back to Ousted for the playoffs, but he stuck with his man and that faith paid off with an excellent performance from Marinovic that kept San Jose off the scoresheet early and contributed to Vancouver's 5-0 victory on Wednesday.
"Players need the coach's belief and I firmly had belief in Stefan," Robinson said of sticking with the Kiwi for the playoffs. "You don't play in Confederations Cup games against Cristiano Ronaldo, [Portugal], and teams like that if you don't believe in yourself and you haven't got confidence. So I know he's got confidence and yeah, he had one error on Sunday, but he was top notch again [against San Jose]."
Thrown right back in it against the Earthquakes, Marinovic came up with a spectacular one-handed stop off an Anibal Godoy free kick in just the 5th minute. His postgame reaction that the save was "pretty standard" shows the confidence and relaxed attitude that Marinovic bring to the 'Caps.
The faith shown in him by Robinson and his coaching staff has buoyed him on heading into the postseason and he wants to repay it.
"I guess you could say it wasn't my best performance against Portland," Marinovic admits. "I just have to play and concentrate on myself. I think the coach knows what I can bring. They have the confidence in me and yeah, I'd like to deliver."
Robinson has taken guidance from his goalkeeping coach Stewart Kerr as to who should be the Whitecaps' starter between the sticks. Kerr feels Marinovic is the most in-form keeper at the club right now, and credits a lot of that to the time the stopper has had away with the New Zealand national team.
"The thing that really helps Stefan is that he is an international goalkeeper," Kerr said. "I think people sometimes look [that it's just] New Zealand. They're doing something that my country, Scotland, are not and the US are not. They're in a World Cup playoff against Peru and he's been playing in those games."
And Kerr feels Marinovic has all the necessary attributes to now thrive as the Whitecaps starting 'keeper.
"He's very calm," Kerr added. "He's just turned 26 now. He's very young for a goalkeeper, especially in North American circles. He's shown in every game that it's not only that he makes very good saves, but under real pressure, he's very, very calm. You know what you're going to get with him."