By Dave Lomonico
After 16 years in Major League Soccer, two MLS Goalkeeper of the Year awards with the Chicago Fire and Chivas USA, six All-Star appearances, and stints with the U.S. national team and the U.S. Olympic squad, Zach Thornton is back in Baltimore.
An Edgewood native, Thorton manned the nets for John Carroll School and Loyola College (now Loyola University) before embarking on his professional career, retired last December and just recently joined the coaching staff at his college alma mater -- for free.
"You know, I really want to see if coaching is something I want to do for my next career path," said Thornton, 38, a 1995 Loyola graduate. "And when I was in college, Loyola was the first platform I had to express myself, so any chance I have to give back to the school and the program, I'm going to take it. I'm just grateful Loyola is giving me the opportunity."
But Thornton's connection to Loyola runs deeper than his status as a former All-America goalkeeper. Before he even started his college career, Thornton suited up alongside current Greyhounds coach Mark Mettrick with the Baltimore Bays.
Although the two ultimately went in different directions, they've stayed in touch. And when Loyola's former goalie coach, Kyle Swarts, left the program last year following the birth of his first child, Mettrick put a call in to his old teammate.
"It was a no-brainer to bring Zack on," said Mettrick, who has been at Loyola for 12 years. "We were in need of a goalie coach, and Zach brings a vast amount of quality experience. He's been there, done that, and we're excited to have him."
Thornton has already made his presence felt, even if the numbers don't quite bear him out. Through 10 games, Loyola is 5-4-1, and Greyhounds junior keeper Thurman Van Riper, a first-year starter, has allowed a respectable 11 goals. His 1.052 goals-against average ranked 74th in Division I soccer as of Oct. 1.
"We are relatively inexperienced at the goalkeeper position, and what Zach has done is given them a level of confidence," Mettrick said. "Zach is very detail oriented, which has helped the goalies understand the nuances of the game."
In particular, Thornton has stressed taking proper angles on corner kicks, dealing with multiple blockers on free kicks and pushing up the field in order to narrow shot windows for opposing forwards.
"Coming from the MLS, I think I bring a fresh angle and a different perspective," Thornton said. "I kind of coach the way I played. I came up under a lot of tough-minded coaches, so I have some of that [toughness] in me."
Indeed, Mettrick said Thornton had been known to bellow from the back line when he wanted the keepers to move a certain way. He has a palpable competitive streak stemming from almost two decades of playing professional soccer.
"Zach is demanding, but he is also a very calming presence with his demeanor," Mettrick said. "He can get [the keepers] to settle down and keep their composure."
Even though he's tough, Thornton said he wanted the keepers to think positively.
"I like to compare goalkeeping to golf," Thornton said. "For golfers to succeed, they have to focus on the one good stroke they had, not the hundreds of bad strokes."
So far, so good. Thornton said he's enjoying working with the Greyhounds' goalies, and Mettrick said the pupils had readily taken to their new coach.
"I don't know how long we're going to have him around," Mettrick said. "But while we do, we're going to take advantage of him."
More Cheap Seats:
• Kyle Kauffman Will Get To Fulfill Soccer Dream
• Unitas And Mann Headline State Hall Of Fame Class
• Jennings Goes Ironman For Brigance Brigade
• Veteran Goalie Thornton Returns To Alma Mater
• Blast Pitch In To Help School Shooting Victim
• Stevenson Will Play Host For Jumbo D-III Tourney
Issue 178: October 2012