Keeping keepers focused during the absence of action

It has been [96] days since the last MLS game, due to the long break in action after the outbreak of the Coronavirus. While contactless practices begin around the MLS and the rust begins to wear off, one thing remains apparent: soccer is not the number one thing on everyone’s minds. Focusing on the task at hand and the normal day-to-day is not what it used to be and will take a while to go back to where it was. A struggle a lot of players are beginning to face is regaining their focus.

FCD goalkeepers
FC Dallas Goalkeeper Coach Drew Keeshan instructs the FC Dallas netminders, 2020. (Courtesy FC Dallas)

Focus is critical for players, but none more important than for goalkeepers. Focus defines the position and a moment of focus can be the difference between a clean sheet and a loss.

Consecutive Champions League finals prove as much, whereas Loris Karius lost focus, lost track of the ball, and let Gareth Bale score from 30 yards out, while Alisson Becker was able to track a similar shot the whole way and make the save.

After the final, Karius was sent on loan to Bestikas, a disgrace in the eyes of Liverpool fans, while Alisson kept his clean sheet and has remained one of the top goalkeepers in the world.

via GIPHY

via GIPHY

Part of focus comes through repetition, the more your practice and the more you see different types of attacking moves, the more ready you are for the same situation in games. That is why goalies warm up the longest during warmups, they are the first to arrive and the last to leave. Additionally, the mentality that stems from a lack of reps for a goalkeeper can often be seen through backup or replacement goalies.

The perfect example of this is Harry Kane, who – despite being one of the most lethal strikers in the modern game – has also played a good amount of time in net and is surprisingly experienced as a goalkeeper from his youth.

During a Europa League clash with Greek side Asteras Tripolis, Hugo Lloris got sent off, and without any available substitutes, Pochettino had the one-time keeper Harry Kane replace him in the net.

Kane was far from lacking confidence in this situation, having already scored a hat trick as Spurs led 5-0. He donned Lloris’ gloves and prepared for the upcoming free-kick. The Tripolis free-kick taker shot to the right of the wall, on Kane’s side. He had a perfect sightline on it, experience in the position, ice in his veins (as demonstrated by his hat trick), and perfect positioning on the shot, yet he flubbed it, as the ball bounced off of his chest, both hands, and behind him into the net.

Kane physically did everything right in this scenario, but without the confidence that training and experience provides, he was unable to come up with an easy save.

via GIPHY

A prepared mind and recent physical experience are the most important factors for a goalkeeper during a match, but such is not quite the luxury MLS goalkeepers will receive once play resumes in just under a month.

A few weeks ago, FC Dallas Head Coach Luchi Gonzalez acknowledged the tough job goalkeepers have and that the demands they face are on a different spectrum than normal outfield players.

“The physical demand, mental demand, and technical demand of the goalkeepers is quite different than the field players.”

Luckily, practices have resumed for many teams across the league with games soon to follow, but it is a long road to regain that focus for goalkeepers. FC Dallas coaches and keepers are taking the proper steps to get the goalies back to game focus.

Luchi said that during the break and in recent practices, goalkeepers have been doing a lot of “video analysis” led by goalkeeping coach Drew Keeshan, who is entering his 13th season as goalkeeping coach for the club. 

In addition to individual analysis, Luchi added that “Now goalkeepers are doing analysis with the back line and position specific concepts with and without the ball”

“We still want them to get a lot of touches a lot of passing and distribution, yes they need reps with reaction and saving and blocking but we want to make sure they’re getting a lot of technical work with their feet.”

Luchi and Drew are making certain that once FC Dallas returns to MLS action, their keepers are mentally and physically prepared for the challenges they face after such a long break from games.

Once MLS returns to action in Orlando, one thing is for sure, it will not be the same. Even Lionel Messi acknowledges as much, saying “Football, like life in general, I think will never be the same.”

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