Friday, September 28, 2007

The Repsonsibilities of Goalies

The American women's world cup team got handed their heads yesterday by Brazil, a team they were expected to beat (somewhere there is a happy, dancing Effie Jones). 4-0 in soccer is a whuppin'. The player I am the most disappointed in, though, is one who didn't play, goalie Hope Solo.

Solo had been having a fine tournament. After a little rocky of a start, she had really pulled it together. Then she was pulled for the Brazil game in favor of world cup veteran Briana Scurry because Scurry's strengths, coach Greg Ryan thought, matched up better with Brazil's style of play. Turns out that may have been a bad decision, the change may have been an operative factor in the team playing badly and losing their shot to take the cup.

Solo responded publicly after the loss by saying to the press,

"It was the wrong decision, and anyone who knows anything about the game knows that. There's no doubt in my mind that I would have made those saves...The fact of the matter is that it is not 2004 anymore. It's 2007 and you have to live in the present and you can't live in the past. It does not matter what someone did in an Olympic gold medal game three years ago. Now is what matters and that's what I think."
This is inexcusable coming from a goalie.

About half my life was spent trying block shots and for those who never played a goal-based sport like soccer, lacrosse, or hockey, you may not understand the meaning of a goalie. The coach is the admiral, he or she sets the general plan and gives you the tools, but as the goalie, you are the captain of the ship when play starts, you are the one who actually uses the tools. Play, from the goalie's vantage point, is a beautiful thing, a dynamic chess match in which all of the pieces are constantly in fluid motion, hyperkinetic, but not chaotic. There are embedded levels of rationality to everything that is happening, levels you need to be aware of as they constantly change. This flux is all the more intricate because while you need laser focus on the ball, it is the motion away from the ball that you are actually defending against: the backside cut, the one on one that is being set up two passes from now,... Your job is to control your entire team in order to take the evolving strategy of the other side and counter it effectively.

I was a very good goalie in my day, not because of a natural athleticism -- I had to bust my butt for everything I had physically -- but I was gifted with a sharp and quick brain that could see through the tricks and traps the other team were laying down and devise a way to use what the coach had given me to neutralize their effectiveness. As a goalie, nothing happened on the field that I didn't call for. If a defenseman got beaten, it was because of where I had him playing and how aggressively I let him play there. If the slide didn't make it in time to cover for someone who got beaten on a dodge, it was because I hadn't prepped it and called for it on time. Anything that went wrong, I caught the heat for. The coach never went to the player who looked bad, he came to me because I was the one who made him look bad. On the field the goalie is in control and bears responsibility for what happens. It is a place of power that is not like other players.

As a result, playing that role comes with certain responsibilities. You need to be able to communicate with your coach, explain clearly what is working and why and what is not and why. The goalie is responsible for what happens in the game, but the coach is responsible for the game. Any loss and it is the coach who takes the blame, even if you were the one who blew it between the lines. If he didn't give you the tools or he handed them to someone else, it is apparent to everyone. Your job is to work with the tools in the smartest way. If the team doesn't believe in those tools, if confidence in the coach is undermined, then your tools will be ineffective. Cohesion is imperative in a team sport and things are divided up so that different members of the team have different responsibilities. By undermining the authority of the coach, the goalie is derelict in his or her job, undoing exactly what he or she should be achieving. You are hurting the team.

This is what makes Solo's comments unbelievable for someone at her level. There is not a goalie alive who played at a significant level who didn't think that he or she was smarter than the coach. There isn't a goalie alive who played at a significant level who hasn't been benched for someone he or she truly believes he or she was better than. I have been in Solo's position many times myself, times when I too believe not only would I have made that save, but that they never would have been taking the shot in the first place if I had been in the cage. But you do not say so publicly. You do not undermine the coach and you never, ever, ever take potshots at the other goalie on your team like that. The goalie never gets the glory. We never score. If we make a dramatic save, it is generally only because we screwed up and gave them a shot they shouldn't have had. But we have a special place and with that place comes responsibilities.

Solo's comments were immature and unacceptable. I understand she was disappointed. I understand she had her ego bruised. But goalies more than anyone else should know how to deal with bruises. What she did was to put herself before the team and as a goalie team always comes first. Gloryboys or girls in the midfield who shoot and score can play the solitary heroes, can encourage their own fanbase, can brag about their stature, but goalies, to be great goalies, must be above the pettiness that Solo displayed. She may have played well in the tournament, but her behavior after this game is inexcusable and undermines her ability to be a credible keeper. Hope Solo should be ashamed of herself and should be kept on the sideline for the rest of the tournament. You are a goalie, damn it Hope, act like it.