Last line of defence

Published on June 23, 2012
Feildians’ goalkeeper David Hickey dives to save a penalty kick against Holy Cross Kirby Group Crusaders in a Challenge Cup soccer match earlier this season at King George V Park. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

Scott Edwards remembers goals he gave up 10 years ago. “Yeah, they stay with you,” said the veteran keeper, who at 41, is still capable of playing in the Molson provincial Challenge Cup league.

“Every now and then, you think about the save you made but, unfortunately, you often think about the ones you could have had.”

That’s part of what it means to be a soccer goalkeeper, who has to defend a net eight feet high and 24 feet wide.

Edwards hasn’t played this season as he deals with knee trouble, but the pharmacist has had an outstanding career, most recently with Holy Cross Kirby Group Crusaders.

A Marystown native, the six-foot-three Edwards is from an era when soccer keepers learned the position by trial and error.

Times have changed.

The Newfoundland and Labrador Soccer Association now employs Matthew Peddle as a goalkeepers coach and Corner Brook has the benefit of goalkeeping coach Robert Mitrovic, a former professional keeper from Serbia.

Edwards, Peddle and Mitrovic each have their own ideas on what makes a good keeper.

There’s no way a keeper can stop them all, but in a game that’s often decided by one goal, perfection is often what it takes.

It goes without saying, you have to be brave to play net in soccer, but there’s much more to the position than sheer guts, according to Edwards, who trains keepers every Saturday evening for the St. John’s Soccer Association at King George V Park.

Edwards grew up in a town where there was always a soccer ball around, and that was the game everyone played.

“I started playing around nine or 10 and went to a tournament where I was chosen top goaltender and that became my position,” he explained.

He continued to improve and eventually made Newfoundland’s Canada Games team and competed in 1989 in Saskatoon. He later went on to play for Memorial University in the Atlantic University Sport (AUS) conference.

“Even then, the coaches weren’t goaltenders, but they tried their best,” said Edwards, who received his first “formal” goaltending training at a camp in England 1997.

Edwards said he also tried to pick up tips over the years by watching the professionals on television.

He said he has learned from local coaches.

“I was an old goalie when I played for Jake Stanford of Holy Cross. There were parts of my game that really needed work and Jake helped me a lot.”

Edwards said the most difficult thing for goalkeepers to learn is how to make the right decision at the right time, which usually comes from experience.

“I looked up to Rod Drake because he was smart,” said Edwards of the former Lawn Shamrock standout.

Edwards said another crucial factor in goalkeeping is developing a relationship with your teammates.

“You’ve got to know them and they’ve got to know you. They need to know when you are coming for a ball. They need to know where to go when you have the ball. You need to talk to them all the time and that’s something young keepers need to understand,” said Edwards.

“That only comes from playing with the same players over a number of years. That builds up trust.”

Then there are some basics which goalkeepers must perfect.

For example, keepers need to know when to come off their line and when to stay back, which is often a split-second decision.

“It’s never good to hesitate,” said Edwards. “If you are going to come out of your net after a ball, then do it. Most strikers have a fear of that crazy goalie. But if they sense you are the timid type, they’ll come at you hard and you’ll pay instead of making them pay.”

And you also must understand that possession helps win games, he added.

“That means catching the ball and distributing it … keeping your team on the attack. Don’t give the ball away. If you are going to kick it, kick it to an open man,” said Edwards.

And stay alert no matter how the game is going.

You are going to have to be prepared to make that one big save to win the close games, so stay focused.

Mitrovic says to play in today’s game a goalkeeper, “requires a strong, quick, brave, intelligent and, most importantly, a talented athlete who wants to learn and progress.

“A goalkeeper,” he says, “must know to properly catch the ball, must be quick to react and needs to feel comfortable in the air.”

Mitrovic, who also played in professional leagues in Iceland and Cyprus where he earned top player honours, said a good keeper needs fast hands and skill for a dropkick. He’s also in the best position to see the entire field and notice mistakes by other players

And additionaly, he also has to have the ability to set up defences and put his team quickly on the attack in transition.

Peddle began training goalkeepers for the NLSA about five years ago.

A 12-year veteran of the Challenge Cup league, mostly with Mount Pearl, Peddle, 28, also played four years with Memorial where he now helps out the goalkeepers.

Peddle runs the NLSA clinics in the winter and during camp weekends leading to the Atlantic tournaments.

“The toughest thing to teach a keeper is to play with confidence,” said Peddle. “You can teach skill and technique to anyone, but it is really difficult to teach confidence in play.

“It is something that typically comes with experience and understanding of the game. So you try to round out a keeper so that they have the tools which will enable them to gain confidence.”

“Matthew’s done a great job with the NLSA,” says Holy Cross coach Jake Stanford, who added that Peddle has worked with his Canada Games girls’ keepers.

NLSA technical director DragaMirkovic says there are a number of very promising young goalkeepers in the province today, including 16-year-old Zachary Taylor from Corner Brook and Thomas Pieroway from Conception Bay South.

And then there’s 18-year-old Holy Cross Kirby Group goalkeeper Brandon Noseworthy, gave up his first goal in six games last weekend when he was beaten on a penalty kick with one minute to play in a game against Feildians.

“He’s a young kid and full of energy, eager to learn,” says Stanford about the team’s rookie keeper. “He’s very agile. In fact, he can’t stand still.

“He’s got some work to do in regards to the tactical side of his game,” noted Stanford. “But technically, he’s a good shot blocker. He’s getting good experience playing with the quality of players every single game. It’s going to take a few years, but he has room to grow into one of the league’s top keepers.”

Noseworthy said John Douglas, the star keeper for St. Lawrence Laurentians, was his early influence.

“I went to his goalkeeping camp in Mount Peal when I was 14-years-old,” said Noseworthy, who is adjusting to the Challenge Cup level of the game.

“At first it was difficult playing a new team and learning to communicate with the players, but once I got used to the guys it’s been good,” said Noseworthy.

Edwards points out books and videos on goalkeeping available these days really help and, because of camps and goalkeeping coaches, this province is “light years” ahead of where it used to be in terms of goalkeeping expertise.

But in the end, you’ll always need courage and, Edwards added with a laugh, “It helps to be a little nuts.”