Matt Bernard Interview - id2 Goalkeeper Coach on Player Development and the Modern Keeper

cover photo belongs to Ivanka Budnik

You have a hand in a number of different organizations. Where is the majority of your time spent? Is id2 the bulk of your time or is it on the club side?

I live outside Sacramento, in Northern California. I worked up until April with the Sacramento Republic Academy and currently with the San Juan Soccer Club U14 Development Academy where I coach two teams. For US Club Soccer, I am actually a full-time employee and work as a Membership Service Representative for the West Coast. Our job is multifaceted but in short we are tasked with developing leagues, expanding US Club Soccer’s membership, and assisting our members or potential members. But long, long before that, in 2006, I started doing id2 camps. So I’ve been doing id2 camps for the last ten or eleven years. We have generally four to five camps per year and I try to be at as many as I can.

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More information about the ID2 program's player identification process can be found here: http://usclubsoccer.org/programs/player-identification/id2-program/

 

And you travel overseas with them when they go abroad on tours as well?

I’ve had two back surgeries in the last eight months so I wasn’t able to go to Spain this last year but I was on the four previous international trips. I have been twice to Spain and then once to Italy and Argentina. On those tours (I was on), the players have had the chance to compete against Barcelona, Real Madrid, Girona, Siena, Fiorentina, Inter Milan, Juventus, Velez Sarsfield, San Lorenzo, and Boca Juniors. Those are just the trips I went on, there have been other opponents in Holland, Germany, Scotland, and England.

 

Tell me a little bit about your approach with your goalkeepers. You work with younger goalkeepers so how do you handle the mental and technical side with these goalkeepers when traveling overseas? Surely going to another country isn’t like playing another weekend game, right?

Absolutely. So the first piece is our camps, where we have the kids come in. Generally they come in regionally. All they have to do is get there and the rest is free. We have them for four days and in that we spend a lot of time in and out of the field. We get to know them from a personal perspective a little bit and obviously try to impact them as much as we in a short amount of time. We try to get as good of an evaluation on them as we can to make our selections for our international trip.

We’re at a point now where we can’t have a full-time developmental academy player come into any of our id2 camps because US Soccer does not allow that. So now we are largely focused on players outside of the DA, which opens some doors for some guys who wouldn’t have otherwise been considered.

Within that, we obviously are looking at how they are as players or goalkeepers off the field. One of the things we really try to [communicate with] them is that “We’re taking you, all expenses paid, across the world. And if we have a guy who is a knucklehead *laughs* that’s problematic for us. That’s problematic for them.” Thankfully we’ve never had to send anyone home [while overseas]. So we’re really interested in how they are as people and how they can act in a group setting when mom and dad aren’t there. And it’s a lot to ask 12 and 13 year olds, right? Being away from home, being in a hotel, not having somebody sit on top of them every minute of every day.

From a goalkeeping perspective, we’re looking at guys who are confident in what they do. Maybe a little bit of a personality where they’re not afraid to have a voice. We really want to play good football so we’re building out of the back. The guys have to have good qualities with their feet and overall distribution to be considered within our group. If they don’t they struggle and we’ve had some guys who struggled, with at least that piece of the game. And we will give them some tactical information if we know an opponent is going to press higher, or play in a certain way.

I think any goalkeeper, regardless of age, will have a certain level of nerves when they walk into La Masia or Juventus and know they are playing against some of the best players in Europe or the world. We generally try to keep it light for the players and not add more pressure to them than they already have in their heads. These experiences for young men are invaluable in the long run. We want them to look back and know they enjoyed it and put out their best effort.

 

I was trying to think of goalkeepers who have come through id2 and all I was familiar with was Alex Budnik who is with the U17s.

 Kevin Silva, USYNT goalkeeper and current starter for UCLA

Kevin Silva, USYNT goalkeeper and current starter for UCLA

Yeah Alex went to Italy with us, Hunter Pinho was also on that trip. They were both very good. If we go way back, we had Wade Hamilton. There’s Kendall McIntosh. Carlos Avilez out of FC Dallas came with us to Spain. And I actually worked with the USYNT with the '99 age group so I was around Carlos and the '99 goalkeeper pool for a couple of years. Kevin Silva played on the 2011 and 2012 id2 National Selection teams. He’s played with USYNT for years now, including the U-17 Nike International Friendlies in 2014.

 

Pay-to-play is obviously a big issue within US Soccer so does id2 get more lower income players without the hurdles of high payments? I’m curious on the incoming players.

Sure. So when it started 12, 13 years ago now, it was “Hey we want to help US Soccer outside the normal mainstream clubs and we don’t care about the financial piece.” Id2 camps are a major undertaking by US Club Soccer and a major expense but we feel it brings value and helps to get guys and girls experiences that they otherwise weren’t able to get. So for us, we’re open to anybody.

There’s a recommendation process and then a selection process of who gets brought into the initial regional camps. And as I said before, the only costs [for the player and their family] is getting there. Once they get there, US Club Soccer pays for four days of hotel, food, coaches, trainers, and Nike provides them with everything they could ever need outside of cleats. So for a 12-13 year old kid, it’s a pretty cool opportunity to see different coaches and we also 99% of the time have someone from US Soccer there evaluating and scouting players. So yeah, I wish it was available when I was a kid *laughs* because we spent a lot of money on ODP. And it was a great experience, but if there was a free option I’m sure my parents would have much preferred that.

 

You’ve worked with goalkeepers from a variety of ages. As we move into this next generation of modern goalkeepers, is there something that stands out about their game from where they excel and where they fall a little short? Are there notable differences between their development and yours?

I think you have a lot of kids who are probably technically farther along than many of us were growing up, because they have access to more training and they have access to more camps. You know, there’s just more stuff out there for them, from a training perspective.

Not to sound old, but the mentality may be lacking in some of them. When the game gets hard, you have to be brave and throw your body on the line. As well as, and I’ve been dealing with a couple of these recently, when you have guys who aren’t getting a lot of playing time or they’re in a situation where they have to compete for playing time, it’s a challenge that a lot of players aren’t used to at this point. From a goalkeeping perspective, you have a fine balance of needing to get games but also needing to be in an environment where you’re getting pushed and not just “the guy” playing every game.

I think the next generation have also been inundated with video and images of their favorite goalkeeper. They can work to emulate Navas, De Gea, or Neuer just like field players want to be Ronaldo or Messi. There are lots of positives and some negatives that come with that. The time these pros have put in to their technique and physical qualities is an unknown to most of them.

You have more goalkeeper trainers than there ever was before, but not as much structure or education out there for those that are trainers. There are businesses, camps, video training, etc. I think that you miss details when you aren’t in a consistent training environment with a long term plan. You can say you want to be like any of the top goalkeepers in the world but do you have a plan of how to get there? It’s not an easy journey and it can be very expensive.

 

So with that in mind, how do you approach practices and training to best address these growing goalkeepers? Or what’s something you focus more or less on that other goalkeeper coaches don’t?

*laughs* This is a good one. I’m going to try to not stick my foot in my mouth or alienate anyone.

Yeah, don’t name any names. *laughs*

I’m more of a goalkeeper coach than a goalkeeper trainer. I would much prefer to work with a goalkeeper in a team or functional group setting than in a 1-on-1 training. I generally try to stay away from training that isn’t realistic to the game. Flying for balls that you can move your feet to is a big pet peeve of mine. Stay on your feet as much as possible. We spend a lot of time on distribution techniques, from the ground, the hand, sidewinders, etc.

I am also a big believer in the goalkeepers doing as much of the serving of the ball as possible. This helps them to improve their striking of the ball, crossing, etc. We as goalkeeper coaches don’t need to serve every ball. We are done playing and can be better served watching the goalkeeper than trying to critique them while striking the ball as hard as we can. I always emphasize being fundamentally sound, limiting extra movements that make you slower or take your energy or weight in the wrong direction.

I think there is a time and a place for a lot of stuff but I try to steer more towards game-related training. So, not jumping off of boxes, not tied to straps, because there’s a place for that stuff on a physical perspective but I don’t know if it’s inside the goal. We do a lot of stuff that forces goalkeepers to make decisions that after they make a save they have to make a distribution. Generally, we try to do it in a game-like, team-like setting as much as we can, to try to create more realistic situations.

 

You did a good job of not throwing anyone under the bus. That was a very political answer. *laughs* You’ve done more on the men’s side but you’ve spent time on the women’s side as well, correct?

Yeah, I’ve worked as a women’s college goalkeeper coach for multiple places. I’ve overseen multiple goalkeeper programs where I’m in charge of both sides.

 

So how do you handle both sides? Where are there similarities and where do you have to coach differently?

I think the challenge for me as a man, I approach the game as how I think of it from my own perspective of being a 6’4” male. So it’s a challenge to think like a 5’2” boy or girl, right? And to think of the positional challenges that they face that I can’t personally say that I went through, or remember going through. So I try to think of the game as each specific person because me being 6’4”, I can be a little higher off my line than a kid who’s 5’8”. I can get away with covering more space because I have longer arms or whatever that piece. So I try to think of that as much as possible.

For the girls I coach, I don’t treat any of them a whole lot differently because, one, women don’t like that and, two, it doesn’t serve them any purpose. The game is the same. What I would say is that the female goalkeeper has a tendency to - and I’m obviously being really general - struggle more with aerial service. You know, reading the flight of the ball, taking the ball out of the air, taking the ball out of traffic. So in my time that I’ve spent with female goalkeepers, I spend a lot of time on that and I think it’s probably their largest area where they can improve. If you look at the collegiate game, there are so many challenges where they have to be available or be prepared for the aerial ball. I’ve talked to a number of college coaches and they say that’s the biggest issue they have with goalkeepers. With anything that’s up over their head, if they’re good, then they’re going to be more successful [as a whole] than others.