From boredom to terror: A glimpse into the life of a backup goalkeeper

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

They face long stretches of relative inactivity punctuated by moments of fright. How do backup 'keepers cope?

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Portland Timbers goalkeeper Jeff Attinella had been in the game for just three minutes when Sebastian Giovinco lined up a corner kick.

Giovinco whipped the ball in toward his goal and Attinella felt like everything was moving in fast-forward.

“I hadn’t seen a cross all day and one of the best players in the history of MLS lines up to take a corner and it’s like, ‘Whoa, alright, now I’m in the game,” Attinella said.

The life of a backup goalkeeper isn’t easy. Depending on where you play, you might not see the field for an entire season. Attinella spent four seasons under Nick Rimando at Real Salt Lake knowing his opportunities would only come due to injury or national team call-up. Even when he got his chance, Attinella knew it would only last until Rimando was back again.

If you’re a guy who doesn’t get games every week, sometimes you need to be thrown into the fire to figure out what you’re made of and how comfortable you feel.

- Jeff Attinella

The mental side of waiting for games is one challenge. You try to stay sharp during the week by simulating game scenarios. You do what you can to support the starter.

The most difficult part of the job, however, is when you’re called upon without expecting it. Attinella entered the game against Toronto FC three weeks ago after Jake Gleeson was injured. He had just a couple minutes to warm up and enter. It was only the second time in his five seasons in MLS he was forced to enter as a substitute.

Goalkeepers are creatures of habit, Attinella said. But there is no way to replicate a true pregame warmup to get into your comfort zone when you’re entering the game as a substitute. Attinella scrambled to put on his shin guards, tie his cleats and get on his gloves. Then he caught a few volleys from Timbers goalkeeper coach Adin Brown.

Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Jeff Attinella denies Jordan Morris (Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports)

“You don’t really get your warmup and you’re not really comfortable going through the pregame routine like you do when you’re starting,” Attinella said. “In pregame a lot of the focus is on the starter and doing what you can to get the starter ready, so instead of preparing yourself you’re preparing the other guy.

“If somebody goes down and you have to come in, as quickly as you can you’re evaluating the game, studying the game as it’s going on and going back into your memory bank, and trying to remember what it’s like to be on the field and trying to catch up to the speed of game as quickly as possible.”

It’s not always easy to catch up to the speed of the game.

Like Attinella, Chicago Fire goalkeeper Matt Lampson also remembers the challenge of one of the best players in MLS history lining up a corner kick shortly after he entered the game.

It was in injury time in September 2012 and the Columbus Crew was trailing the New York Red Bulls, 2-1. Lampson had just turned 23 and was in his first season as a Homegrown signing for Columbus. He entered in the 85th minute after starter Andy Gruenebaum hit his head on the post diving for a ball. Shortly thereafter, Thierry Henry lined up a corner kick. Lampson made the mistake of assuming what would happen next.

“You’d think he’d just touch it and keep it in the corner … no, he just whips one laser beam to the back post, hits the back post and it goes in,” Lampson said with a laugh. “He waited about two or three minutes before he scored on me, though, so…”

It was the first time Lampson entered a game cold – and he took plenty from the experience.

“I won’t say it’s an out-of-body experience because that’s spiritual, but you’re so hyped up on adrenaline that you’re in this zone,” Lampson said. “You almost don’t even need a warm-up because it’s ‘Oh geez, I need to go in.’ A lot of times guys will play well [early] because they’re so hyped up and then they come back down to earth after that. You don’t realize how difficult it is until you’ve done it, and it is very difficult just to come into the game cold and have to get into the rhythm of the game.”

Every experience on the field shapes a goalkeeper. The longer you do it, the more prepared you are for those moments. Most importantly, you’re also able to move past those games once they’ve happened.

Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Lampson gets in the zone (Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports)

Attinella allowed four goals in that first game against Toronto, but he’s given up just two in the three games since. The Timbers are 2-0-1 during that run.

“Going through an experience like this as a goalie, especially if you’re a guy who doesn’t get games every week, sometimes you need to be thrown into the fire to figure out what you’re made of and how comfortable you feel,” Attinella said.

“And if you’re able to make it through the flames of a tough situation and come through the other side, I know that it builds a lot of confidence in how I play and how I fit in with the team, and it builds confidence in general if you’re able to bounce back from a situation like that.”

Facebook Live Question of the Week

Every Thursday we do a live Q&A on FourFourTwo’s Facebook page. I select one question from that Facebook Live session to expand upon in my Monday column. Come join us this Thursday!

Nicholas Klein · 15:43 When does MLS get rid of a draft? Seems like it is pointless these kids coming out of college are 21, 22 years old... same aged kids in Europe or MLS are pros for years before that... Does the MLS get away from college draft since that is such an American sports model

There’s quite a simple answer to this question: Cyle Larin. Jack Harrison. Julian Gressel. Those are three names from the last three drafts, all of whom have proven to be big additions to teams in MLS right away.

Yes, there are players who enter the league at 22 or 23 who have different value than the homegrowns signing contracts at 15, 16, 17 or 18. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have value.

Jack Elliott is a fourth-round draft pick starting every week for the Philadelphia Union. The Fire have won just one game since former first-round draft pick Brandon Vincent went out with an injury. Another former draft pick, Matt Polster, is a reliable starter at right back. Rookies like Jonathan Lewis, Lalas Abubakar, Jackson Yueill, Gressel, Chris Odoi-Atsem, Reagan Dunk and Elliott have all contributed this season. Last year’s draft yielded players like Harrison, Keegan Rosenberry, Vincent and Fabian Herbers.

As long as teams are still able to find useful players in the draft, there will be value there. The player pool is certainly shrinking. Teams are definitely committing more resources to homegrowns, academies and scouting for youth. But you can still draft players that help you, and I don’t ever see that changing.

Until it does, there will be an MLS draft.

The Final Third

Arena announces roster

Bruce Arena announced his U.S. men’s national team roster for upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Costa Rica and Honduras, and the team selection delivers a clear message: Arena wants to get the job done in this round of games.

Since taking over the national team, Arena has leaned on veterans to help pull the U.S. out of a qualifying hole. The Americans are nearly there, but getting four or six points out of the next two games would all but put the U.S. in to Russia.

Arena will lean on familiar names to get the job done. Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Graham Zusi, Geoff Cameron, Tim Howard, Fabian Johnson and Omar Gonzalez are all potential starters. DaMarcus Beasley, Brad Guzan, Nick Rimando and Matt Besler also bring plenty of World Cup and World Cup qualifying experience.

The only big surprise was the inclusion of Seattle Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan. The 22-year-old has had a phenomenal year with Seattle, however, and he adds some solid depth for the U.S. in central midfield. Arena also has some younger options to pick in the team, including Christian Pulisic, Paul Arriola and Jordan Morris.

“Everyone here is experienced inside the group, they know what needs to be done, what’s expected of them, our style of play, and how we go about doing things,” Arena said. “I think since everyone’s been with us now in 2017, it’ll make what is a really difficult week a little bit easier.”

Eastern Conference race gets tighter

The Fire’s freefall – four straight losses and six losses in the last seven games – has turned a wide-open playoff race into even more of a cluster.

Third-place Columbus is now just six points ahead of seventh-place Montreal, and the Crew have played more games than all four teams behind them. Right now, four teams are averaging between 1.5 and 1.58 points per game. The Montreal Impact saw some momentum halted by Toronto FC, but they remain right in the mix along with Atlanta, the Red Bulls and Columbus to catch and overcome the Fire.

Chicago plays at Montreal next week in what has turned into a massive game. Meanwhile, the Red Bulls need to get a result on the road against a slumping FC Dallas team before they head to Chicago on Sept. 9 for another huge Eastern Conference showdown.

The playoff race usually comes down to the final weeks, but in the East we may see a ton of movement in the final four spots for the seven weeks of the season.

Savarese out at Cosmos?

Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

According to a source with knowledge of the talks, the New York Cosmos are preparing for life without coach and sporting director Giovanni Savarese.

The source said Savarese could be looking to move on from the Cosmos, with a hope, perhaps, that he will finally get a chance at an MLS job. The Cosmos are beginning preparations and doing initial legwork on replacements for Savarese, who has led the Cosmos to three NASL titles.

Savarese has been a candidate for multiple MLS jobs in the past, including most recently Minnesota United.

Reads of the Week

There were a lot of great stories to pick from this week. Here are a couple of my favorites.

This is a fantastic GQ profile of Dylann Roof and the Charleston shootings. And make sure to read this powerful story at Bleacher Report about the death of a high school quarterback.