October 13, 2011

An Inside Look at Bronco Soccer: The Art of Goalkeeping with Coach Rusty Johnson

By, Maxine Goynes '11

SANTA CLARA, Calif. –
Santa Clara University's men's soccer team has one of the most accomplished and experienced coaching staffs in the country. The group of Cameron Rast, Eric Yamamoto, Rusty Johnson and Jeff Baicher, were each star players for the Broncos and have been working together as a cohesive coaching staff for nearly ten years  - helping guide the program to five of the last 10 WCC Championship titles.

Goalkeepers coach Rusty Johnson (RJ) – a starter for two of SCU's five NCAA College Cup Final Four teams as a player – continues to be instrumental in directing the fortunes of his alma mater. He recently took the time to answer some questions from SantaClaraBroncos.com (SCB).

SCB: What skills and attributes does it take to be a goalkeeper at the highest level?

RJ: 
You have to have all the skills and attributes to compete at the highest level.   Technical (catching, diving, high balls, distribution), tactical (organization, judging, distribution decisions), physical (good size, agility, explosiveness), and psychological (competitiveness, bravery, coachability) are all areas to evaluate in athletes.  I feel like right now, we at least know the expectations in all of these areas and for the most part are firing on all cylinders.

SCB:  What difference at the college level have you noticed made the difference between a good keeper and a great keeper?

RJ: 
A great goalkeeper puts the time in.  There are many parts of goalkeeping that just require repetition and are quite simple.  Things like kicking, fitness, and footwork, are all things that the best goalkeepers at this university did on their own so that time with the coach is better focused on their development.

SCB: What is one thing you wish people knew about being a goalkeeper? (What are some misconceptions?)

RJ:  I don't think anyone has any misconceptions about the position.  Yes, it is hard.  Yes, if we mess up it usually means we give up a goal.  Yes, if you come to a home game, heckling the keeper might help.  Did I say that?  I didn't mean that.

I guess some people maybe think the goalkeeper doesn't need to be the most physically fit given what they do in a game.  That could be considered a misconception because goalkeepers need to be very fit so that they can TRAIN at a high level.  You may not see them getting "exhausted" in a game like the other players, but they make that one save because they did it 60 times earlier in the week.  The fitter you are, the harder you train, the more positive repetitions you get.

SCB: Rusty you played at SCU, how does it feel to be an integral part of the program now as a coach instead of a player?

RJ: 
I try not to distance myself too much from the time that I was a player at Santa Clara.  I want to remember what it was like so I can relate to the players and help with perspective when we make coaching decisions.  I love being in a team atmosphere, in fact, given I have been on a team almost my entire life, I couldn't imagine my life any other way.

SCB: When you played, what aspect of your game did you feel made you a particularly strong goalkeeper?

RJ:
I had a lot of natural ability when I came in, but was still pretty inexperienced.  Eric Yamamoto spent a lot of time with me.  I was unfit and raw - but he saw something in me.  When I was at my peak, the strongest parts of my game were my distribution, high balls, and communication.  I was "good enough" at shot stopping and 1v1's, but my strength came from starting the attack and communicating to reduce the number of saves I had to make.

SCB: You have had the experience of participating in back-to-back College Cup appearances in 1998, 1999 and went again in 2000, can you describe what that feels like from a player's perspective?

RJ: I was the back-up goalkeeper in 1998.  David Alexander had one of the most courageous seasons in getting us to the College Cup that year.  I learned a ton from training and competing with him.  Being there competing in the final weekend is something I will never forget.

When 1999 came around, the only change in the starting roster was my position since David had graduated.  I felt immense pressure to do as well as the previous year given we had a veteran team.  I feel very lucky to have gotten back to the College Cup and played on the last day for a national championship.  It was relief to have gotten that far, and heartbreaking to have come so close.

SCB: How does having four solid goalkeepers train with and against one another on a regular basis up the caliber of play for whoever is in goal?

RJ:
Our goalkeeping situation has been great, especially recently.  Our success in this position has a lot to do with whether the goalkeepers are getting high quality games during the summer.  As you can imagine, with only one goalkeeper on the field per team, playing time is at a premium, and it's important to get as much as possible during the time away from the team.  This group of goalkeepers has done all the right things to prepare and the entire team is confident with any one of them in the net.

SCB:  Ryan Herman is injured, but in what specific ways has he and Larry Jackson made Kevin Klasila a stronger goalkeeper and vice versa?

RJ: 
They compete.  Flat out.  Everything they do - they want to be faster; they want to jump higher; they want to win.

SCB:
 How confident are you about the team this year and their chances of playing in a College Cup?

RJ: We have a solid veteran group.  This team is resilient.  It's hard to break us.  As long as we are sharp through the season, we should do well.  There is still a lot of soccer to be played, but given our pre-conference schedule, we have shown that we can compete with the best teams.  We want to be playing our best in December, so the key is to continue improving every week.

SCB:  What specific goals have you set for yourself as a coach this year?


RJ: 
I hold my B license, but would like to find a class that works with my schedule to complete my licensing and get my A license, the top license offered by US Soccer.  I'm always on the lookout for opportunities to work with players and improve my coaching.