Entering the 2012-13 Major Indoor Soccer League season, Baltimore Blast head coach Danny Kelly didn't think he had to worry about the goalkeeper position. With four-time Goalkeeper of the Year, seven-time all-league performer and fan favorite Sagu, plus a promising backup in Akira Fitzgerald, on the roster, the Blast were set.
That was before both players told him they weren't going to be returning.
"Not an ideal situation when you think you have two goalkeepers coming into camp and you wind up with none, and you have zero prospects on the horizon," Kelly said. "It was a concerning time for sure."
With Sagu returning to his hometown of Dallas and Fitzgerald committing full time to his dreams of a successful outdoor career, Kelly wasn't bitter, he said, but focused. He needed to find a replacement, and fast. After a friendly competition started between William Vanzela and Troy Hernandez for the starting spot, it became clear who the front-runner was.
Vanzela, a dual citizen of Brazil and Italy, played in both countries before coming to America, most recently in Italy, where he spent seven years playing for five different clubs. The last five years of his career in Italy were spent playing futsal, an indoor game played on a small court with five players on each side. His indoor experience paid off, and he excelled in the MISL.
Vanzela's first game in Baltimore was Nov. 10, 2012, and he recorded 15 saves. He earned Player of the Month in February 2013 and wrapped up the Blast's 21-5 championship-winning season with a designation on the MISL All-Rookie Team. He ranked second in points-allowed average among goalies and earned MVP honors during the playoffs.
"Right from the get-go, the one thing you notice is his ability with his feet," Kelly said. "In the indoor game, for a goalkeeper to be as polished as he was with his feet is a very comforting sign.
"His positioning is excellent, where he cuts down angles and makes himself big. He's just in the right spot where a lot of shots hit him because of his positioning, and that's a skill unto itself. Then just his outright shot-stopping-making ability, making plays with his hands. … He was just really out of the blue. What a great, great find for us in terms of we were desperate for a goalkeeper, and one fell into our lap."
Named Best Goalkeeper during the 2011 Futsal World Cup while playing for Italy, Vanzela had the skills to make the rarely easy transition players go through when they begin playing indoor. Players coming from college or other teams around the United States have typically played mostly outdoors, so the transition to the indoor game -- with its fast pace, play off the boards and smaller floor -- can be difficult.
"The transition for futsal to American indoor soccer and outdoor, it's much more easy," Vanzela said, "because little fields and we play five in futsal, so that's more close to the indoor soccer, so that helped me in goal, reaction stuff."
Kelly said he had been impressed with Vanzela's indoor play.
"I don't think I've seen a keeper in all my years of indoor adjust as quickly as he did to all the aspects of the game," Kelly said.
It also helped with the transition that the Blast roster is littered with international flavor. The 2013-14 team includes four other players from Vanzela's native Brazil.
"Of course, with the Brazilian guys, when I come here, I find Lucio [Gonzaga] and Adriano [Dos Santos]," Vanzela said, "and they've been here before us. We have good times together. Most of the time, I'm with Lucio, his wife and his family. They help me a lot when I'm coming to America."
Vanzela's comfort level shows on the field. As of Feb. 13, Vanzela was the leader among MISL goalies with an .839 save percentage and 5.27 points-against average with 162 saves during 13 games played this season. He has been named Player of the Week twice: for the fifth week of the season, after recording two shutout wins, and for the 11th week, after allowing three goals during a back-to-back weekend series of wins for the Blast. Vanzela made 11 saves during the Blast's 10-5 win against the Syracuse Silver Knights Jan. 24 and 12 saves during a 17-2 win against the Rochester Lancers Jan. 25.
"There's a lot of times this game is about pressure, and whether defenders or goalkeepers or whoever on the field, if you can't handle pressure, you can't play this game," Kelly said. "He is very composed on the ball and very good technically with his feet. I think that's what struck me right away as well as his shot-stopping ability."
Recording 14 saves during the Blast's 18-4 win against Missouri Feb. 9, Vanzela is lighting up the MISL, enough to make fans say, "Sagu who?"