Andrew Dykstra Interview: SKC Goalkeeper on Home Brewing and Overcoming Setbacks

cover photo belongs to Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The interview occurred earlier this month before Dykstra started for Sporting Kansas City at the end of the season. Dykstra subbed on for an injured Tim Melia on October 8th and played the last four regular season games for SKC, as well as performing well in the 1-0 extra time loss to Houston in the MLS quarterfinals. Dykstra discusses his home brewing, overcoming injuries earlier in his career, and dives into the details on his "goalkeeping style".

I was tweeting with someone a couple days ago in DC and he said they missed you on the Loudoun Brew Trail?

Down in Richmond or DC?

Well he’s a DC fan so I guess I just assumed. But he might be in Richmond.

Oh yeah, I got a lot of beer love when I was in DC. *laughs* It was nice. So all my brewing, that’s kind of my hobby. So I met a lot of DC fans. Beer and soccer tends to go well together.

Would you just make batches and take it out to games? How would that connect with fans?

I ruptured my Achilles in 2014 and I actually did a beer called “Achilles Pale Ale”. Our staff found out about it so they did a little thing on it. Put it on YouTube. Steve Goff did an article on it. So people thought that was really cool. So I started actually trading beer with fans. There were a couple of guys I started to trust. They would bring me something cool that they would pick up at whatever their favorite brewery was and I’d give them one of my homebrews. But I only ever do one gallon batches so I don’t have, like, a hundred beers to pass out. So if I kind of got to know somebody we would do beer trades.

Would people generally shoot you straight on if they liked it or not? Surely no one would tell you they didn’t like it to your face, right?

There was the occasional person that would say, “Well I didn’t like this part or aspect of the beer.” Or “It was a little too rich” or something like that. I don’t know if I ever had any bad reviews necessarily. I’ve been doing it long enough and read enough books that I knew I didn’t make bad beer but maybe something that wasn’t for some people.

How do you go about figuring out direction with the next batch? Where does that come from when deciding which way to go?

It can come from anything. Sometimes I visit craft beer stores and just kind of peruse and see what certain breweries are putting in their beers. Sometimes I get dessert ideas. My wife has a big sweet tooth so she comes across and goes, “You know what would be cool is if you did this type of beer” and then I think of what I can add to a beer to simulate or get close to that. Some things just flat out don’t work. She’ll say “You could do a bubblegum beer” but… I can’t put bubblegum in. There’s just no way to do it unless you use an artificial flavoring of some kind.

One day she said “You should do a french toast beer” and I said “Actually, if I use cinnamon, vanilla, some nutmeg, and maybe some maple syrup and put all that in a stout, you could technically do that.” And I did. I figured it out and it was probably one of the best beers I ever made. My mom makes black forest cake, which is just chocolate cake with cherries. And I’m like, “You know, why don’t I do that? Make a beer with cocoa nibs and ferment it with cherries just to see what happens.” So I kind of get my ideas everywhere. Whenever I get an idea I just put it in my notepad in my phone and over time I’m gung-ho about some of them and others I cross off and I’m like “Nah, that’s too much work” *laughs*

So what’s the next one you have lined up? Or are you in the process of brewing one right now?

So right now I have a hefeweizen brewing and I’m going to brew tomorrow a dunkleweizen. So I’m kind of doing German stuff right now. It’s Oktoberfest time. Kind of German-inspired at the moment. But as we get into winter, I want to try an orange chocolate stout. I haven’t done that before. So a stout with cocoa and orange zest. You got to play around with it. I have to read all my notes from previous brews to see how close I can get to flavors.

Thinking back to DC and 2015, it was kind of an up-and-down year for you. Obviously the Champions League game was a rough start to the year but you did really well when you came in during the year, specifically a really wonderful game against Chicago in June.

We hear it a lot from goalkeepers about just pushing past bad moments. So how did you go from that Champions League game to not letting it tank the regular season and being prepared the season?

I think a big part of it is not over thinking too much. From my experience, the guys who don’t think too much or some of the guys who are super confident, they tend to be the guys who overlook that sort of stuff. Either the guys that say “Couldn’t do anything about that” or the guys who is just going, “You know what? I’m just going to do better next time.” They tend to be the guys who get over it quicker. I have my ups and downs with confidence like any normal person but I am definitely not the guy who says “Oh this is someone else’s fault.” I tend to take losses and performances super hard. I don’t know how many people know that. Probably my mom *laughs* is only the one who really understands how much I can beat myself up.

[Heading into the 2015 Champions League game against Alajuelense] I had done my Achilles and Bill Hamid was actually hurt in preseason. So it was actually between me and Travis Worra, who at that point was a brand new rookie and they hadn’t found their trust with him yet. The physical therapist told me I wasn’t going to feel right until ten months after surgery and I think that game was six or seven months after surgery. So I’m coming off a serious surgery and I didn’t have the spring in my leg but I wanted to play so damn bad *laughs* I kind of convinced myself I was okay. You know, training was alright and I could get through what I needed to and I did enough to convince the coaching staff but after that game I realized how far in terms of the strength and the rehab I still needed to complete.

At the end of the day, when that game happened, Ben Olsen had my back. He’s said, “Look, we set you up for failure.” I said, “No, I wanted to play. I wanted to do this. I thought I could and I screwed it up.” But needless to say it was nice that I had a coach who backed me up instead of just, you know, kicking me to the curb or making it more difficult on me by being a jerk or something. *laughs* That part of it, to know that Benny had my back, was nice.

 Dykstra earned 14 starts with DC United from 2012-2016. (Photo belongs to USA TODAY Sports)

Dykstra earned 14 starts with DC United from 2012-2016. (Photo belongs to USA TODAY Sports)

I saw stuff all over the internet and my Facebook and everything else, with people criticizing the way it went, and I just stopped reading and didn’t pay attention to it. I said “You know what? My goal is to get my calf strong and to work on that each day.” I kind of buried my head in work because at the end of the day, you only have so much control. I just tried to make my life simpler by saying “What can I do today to make tomorrow better?” And that’s just all I try to worry about. That’s all you can really do if you think about it, whether you’re a soccer player or anything else. So just consuming yourself with that mentality, you just make life easier and you tend to ignore the distractions. Fortunately enough I did well enough on my rehab and training that when they needed me during the year it was a completely different me.

As you’ve gotten older and your family keeps growing, has your approach to the game changed? Or is it just soccer at the end of the day?

No, it’s definitely changed. I mean, before when I first started as a rookie, I liked to read all the articles and I liked to know what people thought about me and I was always trying to impress people. But as I got older, like I said before, I consumed myself with just “Where do I need to pick up weak parts of my game?” It’s just all about work. Again, I don’t read anything. I don’t read Facebook stuff. When I watch an MLS game I put the commentators on mute because I don’t want to hear people’s opinions. I just want to do my work and know what I have to do for my teammates.

If there was any advice you would give to someone coming into the league new as far as balancing family life and on-field performance, what would you say to them?

It’s tough. So we have twins and they just turned one and they were preemies too. So we had to get up every three hours probably until… at least six months, trying to get their weight up. So I went without sleep and it’s hard. The best advice I can say is when you’re at work, you’re at work. As much as family is important, when you’re at work that’s time you put everything else aside and you concentrate at that. Because at the end of the day that’s what’s going to get you your income. *laughs* That’s what’s going to keep them afloat and keep diapers on their butts and milk in their bottles. You know, you’re actually benefiting them when you learn to put them aside and focus on what you’re doing while you’re at work. That’s probably the best way I can put it. We’re fortunate enough that when we’re done [training], we’re done at 1pm. So you’ve got more time than the average Joe to go home and take care of your family. But with that limited time, that focus needs to be on your work for sure.

There’s a lot of “style” with goalkeeping but it’s rarely covered in detail. Can you give us one goalkeeper whose style you’ve tried to emulate?

Yeah for sure. I try to steal little things from everybody. So obviously Neuer is a big goalkeeper in the world so one thing I wanted to take from him is just how he moves in his goal and his timing on his diving, for instance. He plays like he’s German. A lot of those guys do a lot of arm swinging and trying to time their jump with the shot. My entire life I was taught “Be set. Keep your feet on the floor.” So I tried to incorporate a little bit of a hop to see if I could get jumps on balls but then my timing wasn’t good. So I’d tried less of a hop and kind of found a middle ground with it. And sometimes, to be honest, it changes from year to year, especially when I’ve had injuries. I kind of have to train around things and do things differently.

Recently, as I’ve seen Petr Cech get older, if you watch his film now compared to when he was younger, he tends to get set a lot of higher [closer to the striker, away from the goal], kind of like we were always taught about cutting down angles. When you cut down angles, you have less reaction time but for a guy who’s a little bit older and probably doesn’t have the legs that he used to, cutting down angles and learning to trust his reactions, that’s kind of where he’s taken his game. So I like to watch the older guys because it’s almost like they’ve found secrets that kept their careers alive. Buffon is another guy I try to - I want to - emulate anyway. When the ball is at his feet, he plays super simple and he’s just so calm. I mean, he’s not a guy who’s going to do anything tricky or sneaky but when it’s at his feet he earns the trust of the players around him because he’s so calm and composed.

Can you give an example where you saw a goalkeeper do something and thought “That’s fine for them but that’s not for me”?

I’ve worked with de Gea’s old goalkeeping coach, Eric Steele. I worked with him in the offseason a couple times. A lot of his work is on the evolution of the goalkeeper and where the game is going and how goalkeepers need to adapt to it. So it was interesting to hear what he had to talk about with de Gea in terms of where he likes to be on his line and how he stays big. Joe Hart is a guy when he sees a 1-on-1 he flies into balls and he does it very well but there are other guys who do that and it leaves them susceptible to balls underneath them. Their feet aren’t on the ground so they can’t react to a shot. That’s not for me. I like to have my feet on the ground and I like to have the chance to react to something instead of just giving myself up and hoping it hits me. De Gea is a guy who is going to keep his feet on the ground and he’s going to stand you up. Many times he puts a knee on the floor, spreads, and it works for him. That’s one thing I learned from Eric and tried to put in my game, being more patient with 1-on-1s.

I’m definitely not a ter Stegen kind of guy. He’s a guy who takes a lot of risks with the ball at his feet and there are times where gives some silly balls up but there are other times that he makes some unbelievable plays where no other goalkeeper does these things with his feet. For me personally, I don’t want to be a risk taker, necessarily. Since I’ve been at Kansas, we’re more of a “build out of the back” kind of team. At DC, it was all about shot stopping and finding the guy up the field. And here the thing Peter [Vermes] said to us on the first day was “I don’t give a shit what pressure looks like. This is preseason. You play out of the back at all costs because I’m trying to get our players acclimated to showing up and learning how to play.” This year above any I’ve made some massive strides with the ball at my feet and learning to play out of the back. Before, if a guy was kind of open but might be under pressure kind of quick, previous teams say “Don’t risk it. Put it up the field.” But here, I’m knocking the ball around. I’m getting it back. I’m playing it around the forward. Doing things that I wouldn’t have done on my previous teams.

I know you probably can’t say a ton but I’m curious if you were involved with the 2015 CBA? Was there anything you were really pushing for two years ago?

I was not [involved]. So our union reps would go to union meetings, get the information back to us, and we’d kind of have a locker room discussion and vote on do we want to strike? Do we not want to strike? I don’t want to say too much, but I can probably say as a whole, from all the players I’ve ever talked to, they’re pretty disappointed with the results of the CBA. I personally felt like it’s going to be steps over time. You’re not going to get free agency overnight. That was kind of my mentality. I voted to, if we had to, strike. I was behind everybody else. I wasn’t going to be the guy that was saying no. *laughs* But I’m glad the league continued. I’m glad we’re playing and I’m glad to have a good job.

When you heard the idea of striking for the first time, what went through your head?

Well the league had made some serious leaps at that point so I think that’s why a number of guys were a little down. They thought “If there’s a time to strike, do it now while the iron’s hot.” But yeah it sunk in. I even called a couple USL teams and said, “Hey, if this strike happens, I’m interested in playing for you to stay sharp.” That was in the back of the heads of a couple coaches and I was prepared to go do that. But... it never happened. *laughs* At the time I was married and no kids, fortunately. My wife was behind me in terms of where we we’re going to take steps in my career but I was more worried about “How am I going to get some income?” *laughs*

Well let’s wrap up with this. You’re obviously closer to the end of your career than the start of it but you still have a lot left in the tank. So what’s your outlook in the next five or ten years where you can look back and say “I was really happy with that”?

Yeah, it’s kind of funny you ask that because I was pretty unlucky with the injuries I had. So the Achilles happened [in 2014]. That was in the middle of my contract and they take me back and I turned it around and whatever. But when Bill [Hamid] was hurt last year, he was going to be out half the season. We went to LA and I ended up slipping the disk in my back. That was kind of devastating. Because every backup waits for that one opportunity, and some guys get one opportunity and some guys get ten opportunities. That was probably the first time really in my career that I thought, “If I do well, either DC is going to want me back at more money or they’re not going to take my offer and someone is going to 100% want to pick me up as a starter or as a competing starter.” Unfortunately I got hurt and that was actually probably just as bad as my Achilles in terms of the rehab because my nerves shut down and I had muscles that wouldn’t work.

So I really had to work and work and work and I said, “You know what? I will be very, very grateful if I just get to be on a team. If I can just do this as long as I can, I’ll be happy.” Fortunately I got picked up by one of the best teams in the league. I made leaps and bounds again with my rehab and got back to a place where I’m impressing coaches and I’m doing well in training. Now that thought of “Oh I’m just glad to be here” has kind of pushed itself out of my head and now I’m on “Damn, I want to be a starter again.” *laughs*

Highlights from Dykstra's standout performance against the Chicago Fire in 2015

So right now, I’m trying to find a way to earn game time. And I’m just waiting for my next opportunity. Right now my goal is to be the best backup in the league and when that next window rolls around, hopefully I’ll be healthy for it and show what I can do. If it means staying here or moving on, I want to play and I want to compete. Sometimes it’s up to agents. Sometimes it’s up to coaches and timing, just like any other job. It’s kind of like there are so many things that play into it that you can’t just be like “Oh man I wasn’t good enough” because I think I can play. It’s just a matter of waiting my time and I’ve had spurts at DC United where I showed what I can do. Now I’m back in good health and better feet, thanks to Kansas City.

But yeah, I want to take this as far as I can go. Obviously we’re not at the point where we’re making millions. *laughs* It’s a job that pays the bills and it’s an awesome job to have but at the end of the day I have a family. If New York or LA says “Hey you can come here for minimum” then there’s nothing I can do. I literally can’t do that. But I’m just going to keep going with my head down and see how far we can take it. I want to play as long as I can and as long as I’m healthy.