Veteran And Rookie Make For Dynamic Duo In Goal
By Staci Wolfson
From the preseason on, Baltimore Blast coach Danny Kelly has relentlessly preached defense. In indoor soccer, every player must be a defender at some point, and Kelly won’t let his team forget that.
As the team enters its final seven-game stretch, it all starts and ends with the last line of defense -- the goalkeepers.
“It’s the nature of this game,” Kelly said. “If you don’t defend, you’re not going to win games. The nature of this game, there are turnovers, and there are counterattacks, and if you don’t have five guys willing to defend and do whatever it takes to keep the other team from scoring goals, you’re not going to win many games.
Veteran goalkeeper and MISL star Sagu tops the league with an 8.62 goals against average, and he has 180 saves in 18 games.
“And if we’re all on the same pace defensively, the keeper and the guys in front of him, if they’re committed to defending, you’re going to give yourself an opportunity to be in games and to win games.”
This season Baltimore has featured the veteran-rookie keeper tandem of Major Indoor Soccer League star Sagu and 26-year-old Dave Kern, who spent last season on the practice squad before becoming Sagu’s backup this year.
Sagu, a 34-year-old from Sao Paolo, Brazil, was acquired in a trade after the 2003-04 season after establishing himself with the now defunct Dallas Sidekicks.
“I bring experience,” Sagu said. “I bring confidence. I try to do everything for this team, because the Baltimore Blast, it’s my life. I live for the Baltimore Blast. I see more of these players here than I see my wife.”
The Blast have reaped the rewards of Sagu’s dedication. Last season he led the MISL with a .728 save percentage and a 10.53 points against average. He was named second team All-MISL, and this season has been named Goalkeeper of the Week twice. He currently leads the league with an 8.62 goals against average with 180 saves in 18 games.
And now, in addition to his duties in the net, he has become a help to Kern.
“They work real well together,” Kelly said. “[Goalkeepers coach Karim] Moumban does a great job with our goalkeepers, trains them real hard, and Sagu and Dave both have a good relationship, and they need each other.
“Because it’s all about the team and winning games, Sagu knows if for any reason he gets hurt, he feels comfortable with Dave going in there. And Dave looks at Sagu as a mentor, somebody that can teach him the game. He’s been around the indoor game for a lot of years, an excellent goalkeeper, and Dave can learn a lot from him. I think they complement each other well.”
While Kern knows what it is to be a professional goalkeeper, having played for the United Soccer League’s Harrisburg City Islanders for the past four years, joining the Blast was an adjustment for him. With only five seconds for distributing the ball and boards that create rebounds and spurts of shots, the indoor game provided a different challenge for the 6-foot-1, 195-pound rookie.
But Kern has been able to adapt, going 4-1 with 45 saves.
“As of now, my job is to give Sagu some rest, step in and hopefully there’s not too much of a difference between me and him because I don’t want the guys to feel like, ‘Ah, we’ve got to play better because Dave’s in,’” he said. “As a backup, you just want to come in and do your job.”
Both Kern and Sagu have exceeded expectations this season, anchoring a defense that Kelly expects will take the team into the postseason.
“Sagu brings his veteran leadership and a guy who has seen it all in the indoor game,” Kelly said. “He’s been involved in playoff games and knows what it takes to win games. Dave brings a youthful exuberance and a guy who’s hungry to learn and willing to do whatever it takes to help this team win games.
“We have the savvy veteran and the young guy who’s eager to learn and eager to help his team win games. The thing is they’re both hungry, they’re both hungry to win, and that’s what you want in a goalkeeper.”
Blast At A Glance
After a week off, the Blast (14-9) return Friday to host the seventh place Philadelphia KiXX (11-14) for the teams’ fourth and final matchup of the regular season. When the teams last met Jan. 19, Baltimore earned the victory, 12-6, but the KiXX handed the Blast their first shutout Jan. 5. The game will be televised on the Fox Soccer Channel.
Issue 3.10: March 6, 2008