Attackers going for goals and goalies determined to prevent them will occasionally produce incidents like the one last weekend when Montreal's Sanna Nyassi accidentally kicked Portland keeper Troy Perkins in the face. Yet in this case, both men were within their rights.
I hope everybody who thinks are goalkeepers are over-protected in the modern game watch video of the foot to the face that Perkins suffered in a clash with Nyassi Saturday night.
I do agree that too many times the referee will blow his whistle for a foul on the goalkeeper that looks a legitimate challenge even to me, a former amateur keeper of commendable spirit but dubious ability. If an attacker goes straight up for the ball and keeps his elbows down, or stretches out his foot for a pass he can realistically reach, a foul call should not be automatic.
Nyassi and Perkins contested the latter situation in the 64th minute. From midfield Collen Warner slipped a ball into the left channel and as Nysassi tried to wheel past defender Hayner Mosquera, his off-balance lunge with his right foot went over the ball and raked Perkins on the nose and forehead.
Perkins needed a few minutes of medical attention to continue, and with his nose covered by six small bandages he finished the game. In his post-game comments Timbers coach John Spencer called it “a stone-cold red card,” and with all due respect I can’t agree.
Nyassi had a real chance to get the ball and simply missed it as Mosquera jostled him just enough to disrupt his stride. Nyassi didn’t crash into the goalkeeper a second or so after he’d collected the ball; and players who slide into the keeper as he smothers a ball or lead with their elbows as they contest a cross are far more punishable than was Nyassi in this case.
Timbers TV commentator Robbie Earle, a forward in his playing days and like Spencer a veteran of such confrontations, described it thusly: “It was really brave goalkeeping, good goalkeeping, because he saw the danger, he saw the threat of Nyassi on the back of Mosquera. He gets there and he gets a boot in the head for his trouble.”
Earle’s reference to ‘danger’ is the threat of Nyassi on the Portland goal, not the player protecting it, yet goalkeepers do need to be brave, for the chance of serious injury is real. The attacker’s zeal to score a goal is as powerful as the keeper’s instinct to stop him, and with two or more players going full-bore collisions are inevitable.
Former U.S. keeper Brad Friedel, who through zealous training and rigorous mental preparation is still tending goal in the Premier League at the age of 41, says the goalkeepers’ code demands actions that call their sanity into question. “In those situations, once in a while, somebody’s going to get hurt,” said Friedel in an interview before he retired from the national team. “No matter what the forward does, the keeper’s not going to back off.”
Revs' keeper Matt Reis got a reputation as a headhunter for a series of nasty collisions, including a clumsy challenge in which his knee drilled Alecko Eskandarian in the head and left him concussed. While forwards sometimes veer off at the last second, or jump over a sliding keeper as he collects the ball, a keeper who bailed out would be ridiculed. So usually, they don't.
Such encounters occur frequently without significant injuries, so we take for granted how harrowing those moments can be. It’s only when a Peter Cech suffers a near-fatal skull fracture that the danger that keepers brave nearly every day bursts back into the general awareness. In October, 2006, in the opening seconds of a game against Reading, the Chelsea goalie dived to smother a ball and though clearly Cech had the play covered, Stephen Hunt barreled forward.
Hunt’s right knee smashed into the side of Cech’s head and knocked the keeper senseless. Cech continued on for a few minutes but soon needed to be stretchered off the field. He was rushed to Royal Berkshire Hospital, where a depressed skull fracture was diagnosed. During surgery, two loose pieces of skull were removed and replaced with metal plates. Had those pieces penetrated his brain more deeply, he could have died. Cech returned to play wearing the protective head covering he wears to this day.
I can’t defend those who badger their teammates at every innocuous shot from 40 yards out, or feign injury when a nick catches them in passing. And though Nyassi deserved a caution for his challenge on Perkins, the keeper’s remarks about a tackle made no sense. Nyassi was trying to shoot or dribble around the keeper, who in effect, was the one making a tackle.
I still want keepers to be fairly challenged when they go for a corner kick, and I love the back-pass restriction that forces them to get real with their feet. I like the idea of a goalie being less of a specialist and a little more of a soccer player.
Opponents charging in to score aren’t the only threats. Keepers collide with goalposts and teammates. They come out to challenge for a high ball as a forward angles for it, perhaps with a defender or two clawing desperately. A through ball slices apart the centerbacks and the keeper’s only chance is to dive at the forward’s flailing feet. A wildly bouncing ball ping-pongs between the bodies until the keeper plunges in to grab or swat it.
It happens all the time, in every game, and when a perfectly timed smother takes the ball a few inches from the opponent’s foot or snatches it away from an outstretched head, I shake my head in admiration and respect. Those guys may be crazy but they got guts.