Libby Stout Interview: On Her Retirement, Career, and What Lies Ahead

Libby Stout is an American goalkeeper who most recently played for Apollon Limassol in Cyprus, before quietly announcing her retirement. Stout graduated from Western Kentucky University then traveled to France in 2012 to start her career in Europe. After five seasons in Europe and another two years in the NWSL, Stout is stepping away from the game.

 Stout played for Liverpool from 2013-2014, before returning to the US.

Stout played for Liverpool from 2013-2014, before returning to the US.

You’ve recently decided to hang up your cleats after a positive Champions League run with Apollon Limassol. This seems fairly abrupt as you returned to action from an injury not too long ago. How long had you been weighing retirement?

I started my professional career knowing a few things. I wanted to play out my season in France, play in Germany, England if possible, finish my career in America, and win a championship somewhere along the way. That was a rough outline, but I clearly remember thinking this exact thought when I was sitting in my small 6th-floor apartment in Yzeure, France. I look back on it now and sometimes cannot believe all of that fell into place, not to mention gaining lifelong friends, memories, Cyprus, Champions League and, fortunately, the list goes on and on.

Retiring was always something I contemplated. I’m a planner. Not a diligent planner, but a rough idea planner. So I always thought of life after soccer, wondering what I would do (now leaning towards coaching and/or sales) and the circumstances around that inevitable time.

I came to Boston having recently dislocated my collarbone in England. I had muscle strains throughout that first Breakers season. I came back for the second season as strong and fit as ever but messed up my ankle in a training session. Mentally I was done. Truthfully, each injury mentally chipped away at me, but, selfishly perhaps, I couldn’t muster up the courage to give it up. Someone had to muster the courage for me. And I, from the bottom of my heart, am grateful for Matt Beard knowing me like he does and knowing I wasn’t myself. He did the hard part for me, which seems to be a theme for many coaches: having to do the hard part. It’s not an easy job and the amount of respect I have for my own coaches and teachers, and all those I never had, is immense.

So, in short, I knew I wanted to hang it up after the ankle injury. Matt sat me down and let me go. I was crying tears of rejection and sadness, but surprisingly more so, of relief and freedom. I felt I regained some control over my destiny at that point. Be done for good or give it a short last go. Cogs started turning and I had the opportunity to go on a 3-month retirement trip to Cyprus. And a lovely one it was.

 

After the 2015 season you left Liverpool to join the Breakers but, like you said, were plagued with injuries in 2016. You made ten starts for the Breakers before being released going into the 2017 season. With so many ups and downs, how do you look back on your move to Boston? Is there any regret in making the move away from Liverpool?

I absolutely do not regret leaving Liverpool. I made that decision with 100% clarity and surety. And that is NO slight to Liverpool and my experiences there in any way. That club and my friends I left behind know how much I love them, and if they don’t know they should know how much gratitude and love I have for them.

Boston gave me a new professional and personal challenge. Realistically, I’m a little disappointed I never really got the chance to play my best there but that experience is one I feel extremely fortunate to have had.

 

With Cyprus’ top club, Apollon Limassol, you finished top of the group stage in the Champions League, qualifying for the round of 32. How did you rebound from the setbacks in 2015-16? What advice would you give a young player who is recovering from an injury?

In Cyprus, I felt like myself for the first time in a long time on and off the field. I was training and playing well and genuinely happy. It was a similar feeling to when I first acquainted myself with Europe in 2012, so it was fitting to rediscover that feeling where it started. It was calming to go into that knowing I was giving myself the opportunity to close my career on my own note. All I ever wanted to get back to was the opportunity to do my job to the best of my ability and contribute to the team through my play. I hadn’t done that since my first year at Liverpool in 2014, so three years was a long time coming.

My advice would be not to quit based on just an injury. Use an injury as motivation to come back stronger, smarter, and wiser. Use that off time during an injury to learn and take notes. But, don’t forget to take care of and listen to yourself. If your ultimate goal is to come back stronger and fitter, DO IT. If you feel it’s time to move on to your next chapter, DO IT. You are the only one who knows what you really want and what’s ultimately best for you. And don’t be afraid to seek help.

 

It’s unfortunately much more common for players to retire before 30 on the women’s side than the men’s. As you’re stepping away from the game and looking back, where is the biggest need for the game to grow? And what’s something fans on the outside don’t get a clear picture of?

Sustainability-wise I always felt more stable as a pro player in Europe. My contract was guaranteed and the possibilities felt endless. I never really had that feeling in the States and I’m not really sure how to create that feeling. But if there were a goal in mind for the league here I’d make that it, security and stability.

Fans don’t get a clear picture of how important their presence and passion is and how much it’s appreciated. We live and breathe by your cheers and self-motivate and grind by your jeers. May they never stop. And may that little girl on the sideline continue to burst with inspiration.

 

Your career has taken you all over the world, playing in France, Germany, England, and Cyprus. How does a goalkeeper from Louisville, Kentucky reflect on such an illustrious career?

In short, my dreams wouldn’t have formed without the fierce Brianna Scurry, my competitive spirit without my older brother, self-motivation without my competition, championships without my teammates, leadership without my coaches, good looks without my parents. No, but seriously, I’m proud and I’m grateful and I want to say thank you.

 

Can you give fans an update on what's next for you? As you said you're a planner so I assume you have something already lined up?

I'm feeling out my future. Currently, I'm working at the top beer distribution company in Boston, but during my last year of playing, I started to think more seriously about coaching. Ideally I'd love to coach college or professional. I also have my own keeper training platform, Stout Goalkeeping, which provides personalized one-on-one training. I have a vision in mind to provide some type of mentorship and help shed light on the possibilities for women to play professionally abroad, even flirting with the idea of becoming an agent. So we will see. Right now I'm just trying to be patient and enjoy what I'm doing every day, whilst working my way up through the coaching licenses and keeping an ear out for opportunities.

 

Lastly, what’s a moment from your career that you'll never forget?

My lasting memory is parading the FAWSL Champions trophy with my Liverpool Ladies team before a sold-out crowd, standing ovation applause at Anfield. Unforgettable.

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.

Group-combined-website.jpg

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.

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.

Russell Payne Interview: Goalkeeping Insights with USMNT Goalkeeper Coach, Army Head Coach

cover photo from Baltimore Sun

After playing abroad in Ireland and Germany, Russell Payne has amounted an impressive knowledge of the game that he now passes on to the next generation of goalkeepers. Russell Payne is the current head coach at West Point and recently worked with the USMNT under Jurgen Klinsmann as the team's goalkeeper coach. Payne has also spent time with the U20s, where he worked along side Zack Steffen and Ethan Horvath.

Payne goes into the details of penalty saves with Zack Steffen, how he kept it competitive between Howard and Guzan, and the playing environment at West Point.

 

Tell me a little bit about the hiring process with the US Men’s National Team. How did that line up for you to become the USMNT goalkeeper coach?

I’ll go back basically two years from now, January 2015. We were just finishing up qualification for the U20 World Cup. I had been with Tab Ramos and the U20s since he got the job. So when Tab took over he called me in to be part of his staff. I took over working with the goalkeepers, obviously. We did the 2013 World Cup in Turkey and the 2015 World Cup in New Zealand.

Right after qualification I got a call from Jurgen asking if I could come in and be part of the January camp. Chris Woods was having, I think, a medical issue at the time and basically needed a stand in. So I went in for him and did the January camp in 2015. Chris was back in after that so I didn’t go to qualifying in March but then come the early summer, Jurgen called me back in for the Gold Cup. Chris had left and taken the job with West Ham and Jurgen called me in and asked if I wanted to be part of the staff.

 

You mentioned the 2015 U20 World Cup and you’ve worked with a number of goalkeepers now that have gone overseas, not to mention yourself, playing over there. I feel like I’ve heard this question a lot and I guess I’ve never really been satisfied with the answer. American goalkeepers do pretty well overseas and I was curious on your outlook as someone who’s been on both sides of that. Is there a reason for that or is it just a coincidence that American goalkeepers succeed in playing abroad?

No, I think it’s a number of things. First of all, goalkeeping is a very specific position. It’s a very analytical position. I think sometimes it’s a little easier to focus down on goalkeeper development than it is with field players. In this country, it’s probably a little easier to find a good goalkeeper coach to get you on that step-by-step process that could get you to progress your game. I think it’s a little bit harder with outfield players. I think with goalkeepers it’s more of a straight line with how a guy does with keeping the ball out of the net, how he does physically, the mental toughness side. I think it’s a little easier to scout and determine on a goalkeeping side.

We did a sort of goalkeeper analysis and DNA piece over the last year. We found, which is not rocket science, that all the goalkeepers that have done really well through the national team set up over, say, the last twenty-five years, have been multi-sport guys. Guys who were good at a variety of different disciplines, in terms of hand-eye coordination, in terms of body position, in terms of all those things. Not to say goalkeepers all across the world are multi-sport athletes, because they’re not, but I think that’s one of the things that has helped us in the US.

And then, you know, not everybody goes overseas and is able to be successful. I think for me, the biggest thing that played a part in being somewhat successful, and being able to stay put overseas for a little while, really is the mental side. I think in terms of having knowledge of the game, or the ability in the game, or the technical ability, those are all things that a lot of guys possess as US goalkeepers. But it’s the grittiness of being able to survive first and foremost when you get overseas. That’s the tougher part. And that’s something I don’t think that’s something I can really answer or put a finger on. Because I was a suburban kid. I grew up in the suburbs of Columbia, Maryland, between DC and Baltimore. So it wasn’t like I had some hard knock story of how I was going to make it. *laughs*

I just went to the University of Maryland, played, and got a great education there. On and off the field with Sasho Cirovski. I was his first recruit back in ‘93 when he got the job. So I went through the grinder with him and helped him build that program up. I was a nomad in MLS for a couple of years. When I got overseas I said “You know what, I’m here and I got to make it work.” And you know, locker rooms are tough and you just put your head down and you work. You push through and you don’t take anything too personally. You realize that Europe can be a cold place sometimes, physically and emotionally. You learn the language and you do the best to get along with teammates and you take your knocks and keep going. And that’s easier said than done. Most folks who try that wash out, because they realize they can fall back on something else. And I was the same, I could have fallen back on going to med school but I just decided I wanted it bad enough and I stuck with it.

I don’t think that Brad [Friedel] or Kasey [Keller] or any of the other guys - you know, I was never at their level - but I don’t think they’d tell you anything different as far as pushing through that wall. Because everybody hits it and you have to figure out how bad you want it and how bad you’re going to stick to it.

 

Going on the mental side to goalkeeping, what was it like working with Guzan and Howard, where it was known the starting spot was open for competition. How did that affect your setup and your coaching?

What you want to avoid is anything that is not transparent, especially with two seasoned pros. They’ve been through it all. They’ve seen it all. And you don’t want to approach it with any BS. You want to approach it being extremely open every day. “Hey guys, this is what I’m thinking we’re going to do.” And they’re not afraid to tell you what some of their rhythm is about, and how they like to approach things. You figure out what works there and how to keep them as sharp as possible. You let them know that your job every day is to keep them in that rhythm and that you’re ultimately going to report back to the boss of who has had a better day.

At the end of the day, it’s always the boss’s decision. It’s always the head coach’s decision of who’s going to play. And 99% of the cases that’s just how it works in football. Your job [as the goalkeeper coach] is to keep it extremely professional as you can between the guys who are competing, but also let them know you have their back. You’re not going to mince words. You’re not going to BS them. You’re going to be honest about what’s out in front of them. You give them as much heads up about preparation for the game for the weekend as you can. You help them with the tendencies with the players in front of them, whether [the two goalkeepers are] starting or not starting. Especially when there’s a back and forth and they’re trading games, they both have to be at their peak.

If I look back on the last two years, I feel like between Tim [Howard] and Brad [Guzan], they both had very good moments, more than down moments. I think they were two of the most consistent pieces of the group. And that’s just due to their makeup and how they approach every day.

 

Working with Jurgen, I’m really curious about conversation or coaches meeting with him. You talked about at the end of the day it’s not even your call, it goes back to him. So how would you approach going into that? What’s worth bringing up to Jurgen about the goalkeepers?

Yeah, I think it goes back to what I said earlier. He won’t always have eyes on what I’m doing through our session. So I’ll let him know what we worked on, how it went, how they approached it. You know, the good thing about working with Tim and Brad, as far as attitude-wise, they were very consistent. There was never a fluctuation in attitude and approach. And sometimes with other goalkeepers, guys will rule themselves out just how they approach the situation. But those two guys were always consistent there so we never had to deal with anything about attitude or professional.

The feedback I gave was just about execution. It usually had to do with execution as we approached the game because every opponent you approach, you’re going to be looking for different things from an execution standpoint from your goalkeeper. Whether it’s your distribution, whether it’s your angle play, whether it’s your communication, whether it’s your position or reading certain aspects of the game that are going to open up in front of you. We’ll work on those in training and then my job is to communicate who executed those things better on the day.

There wasn’t always a big difference between the two of them. What would happen at that point is Jurgen would give me his feedback on what he’s seen in the past from opponents, because we duplicated opponents a lot. We saw the same guys quite often through CONCACAF. So he had a good idea and understanding of who we were playing and what they typically brought. We’d look at certain strikers’ tendencies. Sometimes it would come down to which keeper we thought would match up with the opponent better, or with the defenders we were going to be starting. And sometimes it just came down to, “Last time we played these guys, Brad was really good against them and he’s in a good moment right now. Let's go with him.” Or the same thing with Tim. “Last time we played these guys, Tim was the man. We know that they’re probably going to hesitate a little more with Tim when they come to goal on certain players, let’s go with him.” So there were a lot of factors, I don’t think it was ever down to one thing.

 

With the US team, we’re obviously going to have a different makeup than Mexico or any other country. They’re going to have a different requirement for their goalkeeper. Is there one thing that stands out that the US needs from their goalkeeper?

You know, we’ve always had guys who, in terms of presence and leadership, have always made that a large part of their game. I think our best national team goalkeepers have all stood out in the club environments as leaders, as team captains, as carrying the group from an presence standpoint. They’re usually an emotional leader of the team. The only way you get to a captaincy point of leadership is consistency. Consistency really does lead to trust which leads to efficiency. It leads to you being put to the forefront of the group. A coach trusts you, your players trust you, the next thing you know you’re put in a leadership position. I think that’s one of the biggest parts.

I think [US goalkeepers are] proficient with our feet, none overly exception. We have had guys who were exceptional but on the most part we’re on par. We’re consistent. Our handling is usually very good. Athletically we do well on crosses. We command areas. We do things like that. But I think we have a good presence about us. There’s always a vocalness. There’s always a sense of organization and leadership. You always see US goalkeepers come through with bigger plays. But a lot of times you’ll just see staying power and consistency. And guys locking down a position club-wise. Kind of staying in the moment, being trusted by foreign coaches to be the team captain on foreign teams.

 

Switching to the college side, I’m curious about the differences in training sessions for the national team versus a college program. Are there certain aspects you focus on more or less with each side?

Yeah, I think the thing for me, one of the biggest pieces I stress when working with the younger keepers - meaning, 17, 18, 19 year old, that U20 World Cup cycle range - is that we always talk technical proficiency. I go in a little bit of a different lane with that stuff. I look at the stylistic part of it and helping guys understand what works best for them stylistically, but what’s still efficient technically. Because one of the things I took away from my own career was, and in having played alongside a guy like Tim [Howard] for a little while when I first got started in the professional ranks, you got to have a sense of your own style. How you handle balls, little bit of how you move, little bit of your footwork stylistically, little bit of how to prep your body into training or into exercise. You’ve got to trust in that and believe in that but also know where the technical part of that has to line up in order to secure the ball, stave off injury, and in order to put yourself in position to make the next play.

So it doesn’t really come down to repetition of certain types of exercises so much, because there are thousands of ways to do certain drills and get similar results, but it really comes down to the young men that I coach understanding who they are at that stage of their development, who they are at 18, and what works for them and what doesn’t. A lot of that comes from watching goalkeepers that are better than them and training with goalkeepers that are better than them. You rarely are going to get that on your own. At to a certain point, you have to start getting around pros who are older than you and better than you. You have to take a little piece out of their game. I think all of our games are a combination of guys who came before us that we pulled little pieces out of, and then within that, your own style starts to come through and you figure out what works for you and you go from there.

So that’s really what I focus on. If I have a 18, 19 year old kid like, for instance, a Zack Steffen who was our keeper at the last U20 World Cup cycle and who did a great job. You know, he had some really, really strong athletic traits to him. He had some posturing that he would take in certain exercises and in parts of the game that I really liked and wanted him to hold on to. Then in other areas, I would say, “Okay, you have to be aware, your footwork needs to be adjusted in this situation. Your hands have to be adjusted if you’re going to be making this play.” And we’d go from there. I think as he got into game after game after game at that level, and was around Ethan Horvath and they competed against each other and he was training with a professionally team at the time, I think he was just getting better, figuring out what works for him.

And then on top of that, like we talked about earlier, “Hey, you have to be understanding that you’re in a leadership position. You’re in a position of influence. You have to embrace that as a keeper, especially as an American keeper. It’s expected of you." The vocalness, the presence, looking, feeling, and being prepared throughout a game. Those kind of things with the position come with our identity.

 

 Photo by Alex Livesey

Photo by Alex Livesey

It’s funny you mention Zack Steffen because I remember watching him through that 2015 World Cup run with all those penalty saves and.. I don’t want to say apathetic, but it was very odd how he would make a great play and it was almost like it wasn’t that big of a deal to him. He had such an interesting composure and he was very calm back there. You expected this big reaction and he just stayed pretty calm the entire time.

Yeah, you know, that comes from two things. One, demeanor, in terms of who you are as a player but also recognizing the moment and knowing that the more you show that sort of stoic confidence, I think it resonates farther, than anything. And then the second thing is preparation. You don’t always have that “holy shit I just made a great play” look about you when you’ve prepared to make that play. And what I mean by that is, every one of the penalty kick takers that Zack saw during the U20 World Cup cycle, we had studied together. And it’s never an exact science but we had a prediction of where everybody was going to go. We studied all their kicks going back three or four years. We made calculated assumptions, calculated guesses on which way we thought they would go. He would look over for the signal if he didn’t remember which way, we’d give it to him and he’d make the final decision. So when the guys went the way we thought he was going to go, and we had prepared, it’s like, “alright there you go.” That’s why we prepared. He did it, let’s move on.

 

Changing gears a little bit, I’m curious with being at Army and working with players that have more a military focus. Does that show itself in any way or is it still soccer at the end of the day?

Yeah, you know that’s an interesting question. As you can imagine I get that a lot. I know being around soccer players and recruiting soccer players and being fortunate enough to coach youth team national players, the mentality of the guys that I get at West Point... I shouldn’t say “the guys that I get” because I recruit every single player that comes in. I don’t sit around and wait for kids who are military descendants to call me and say “I want to go to school” and I just say “Okay come on in.” *laughs* It doesn’t really work like that. I recruit at West Point the same way when I recruited at the University of Maryland.

So their mentality isn’t necessarily different but over the course of their college career at West Point they grow and they develop. Their character strengthens and they are different when they graduate. But they’re not necessary different when they get there. They are very normal, you know, guys. They’re normal soccer players. They’re hungry to play the sport. They’re academically astute enough to get in and they're open to the idea that there’s more to the potential college experience than just what they thought was out there. So the idea of going to the academy is something they’re open to but it’s not something they’ve prepared their whole lives for, or *laughs* even thought about until they got a phone call or email from me or my staff.

When we get them in, our job is to get them to understand that the work that you've done as a young soccer player in America and getting to the point to be recruitable, playing in academy teams or state cup teams or whatever it is, that hard work and that leadership that you've shown, is what’s going to get your through this place on a daily basis, not just once a week. And that’s the difference. You can’t just turn it on and turn it off, like at other schools. And that’s no knock on other environments, that’s just the reality that at West Point. You show up with that same grit and hunger in the classroom, and in the dorms, and in the lunchroom, and on the soccer field and not just show up with it on the soccer field like you would do at other places. And if you do that every day, imagine how much you change over six to twelve months.

So when the general public meets our kids after they’ve been in school for a year or six months, they go, “Wow that’s a special kid.” And I go, “Yeah, they are special, but don’t think they came in that way.” They came in just open and interested and hungry, but they left chiseled and they left stronger, in terms of the value system, the moral systems, the character building, the leadership development. They left with that. They don’t always come in with it though. So my job is to reinforce and teach that on the field, off the field, and in the locker room. So that everything is congruent and nothing is mutually exclusive. So when they walk over to the military side of campus or to the academic side of campus, it’s consistent.

 

Joe Greenspan graduated from the Naval Academy in 2015 and was met with a polarizing response about going professional. Some were very supportive of him becoming a pro while others thought he should finish his service to the military first. Obviously it’s a heated issue and I’ve heard cases on both ends for it. What’s your take on it?

Yeah, you know, my experience with being at West Point for seven years of coaching and being a part of the environment there and seeing kids from all the [military] academies and how they give back to the country and to us, is just awesome. I think the one kid out of thousands and thousands that reaches an elite level through sport while doing the right things with the academy - militarily and academically - that one kid out of thousands that has a chance [to play professionally] should be met with the same sort of enthusiasm and support that we do for everybody else. Because what we’re looking for is the elite to come and rise to the top, at all the academies.

We want the best kids to go on and do great things. And if doing a great thing is representing your academy, representing your family, representing your country for a couple of years on the “field of friendly strifes” as they call them, then I think we should celebrate that. Because they’re not getting away with something. They’re not taking or stealing or foregoing a commitment they signed up for. They went to school and they busted their butts to be the best they could be in all the areas that they were asked to be great. And they succeeded in graduating and getting commissioned and being one of the best they could be athletically. So we should take the opportunity to celebrate that and we should support that. Because we know it’s short lived. We know it’s a couple years. For me, I think it does nothing but strengthen the ability of the academies to bring in even better people.

So Joseph Greenspan was a junior, I believe it was 2013, when the Naval Academy and Army went toe-to-toe. We were number one and two in the Patriot League. My goalkeeper, Winston Boldt was named second team All-American, and Joseph Greenspan was named third team All-American. I don’t know when Navy’s last All-American was but for us, that was our first All-American in forty years.* So those two guys really set the standard. Winston Boldt was something like a 3.6 or 3.7 average cadet and he was also the number two cadet in the Corp of Cadets at West Point. So for someone to say that this kid shouldn’t be able to pursue any disciple that he chose, for me, is ludicrous. He kicked the butts of the other, you know, 4,398 cadets. *laughs* He ascended to the number two position as the Deputy Commander. He became the first All-American in forty years and he had an A average.

Going into graduation, his senior year, [Boldt] was invited to the MLS combine, and he ended up turning it down. He said “You know what, I’ve decided it’s not the path for me” And that’s great. I was supportive of him. Obviously I was disappointed on some level he didn’t go for it a little bit, but that was his path. Right now he is a First Lieutenant in the Army and he’s kicking butt and I think he’s got a pretty long runway in front of him for what he wants to do. Joseph Greenspan decided to go ahead and play and was able to get drafted and he’s making a career out of it. I could be happier for him and that’s what he chose. But both guys put themselves in those positions by the work they did. They didn’t fall into it, so to to speak. They earned it.

For it to even be a debate, for me, is interesting because we’re talking about one out of thousands of kids. We’re not talking about ten or twenty kids, we’re talking about one out of thousands every couple years that really has an opportunity. There are only a couple of Navy football players. There are only a couple of Army football players that really ever have a chance to do that, every year or two. It’s not this great plethora of kids who are doing that. And even when they do do that, it’s usually pretty short lived to a certain extent. Careers are short in the professional ranks and all it does is attract better kids to our academies, athletically and in all areas.

* Navy's last All-American before Greesnpan was Brian Steckroth, who was named Second Team All-American in 2001. Before that,  Bruce Montgomery (Honorable Mention) and Thomas Panik (Second Team) received All-American honors in 1975. Greenspan would also become a First Team All-American in 2014