April 19, 2012
By Dan Shalin
CHICAGO, IL - The Chicago Inferno’s roster is quickly taking shape as the club prepares for the opening of preseason training in late April and the beginning of its inaugural Premier Development League season in late May.
While manager Branko Savic continues to evaluate potential outfield signings, the club already has secured the services of three talented goalkeepers: Naperville’s Zachary Szymel (Robert Morris University), Woodbury, Minnesota’s Peter McKeown (Loyola-Chicago) and the Australian Troy Osborne (Iowa Wesleyan).
Upon their arrival in camp, the trio also will become the newest pupils of the PAWS Goalkeeper Academy, the Chicagoland company that offers individual and group-based goalkeeper training by a team of elite coaches.
In mid-March, Inferno president Todd Short and PAWS owner/director/coach Doug Cardosi hammered out an agreement between the two organizations that will help ensure the Inferno’s netminders receive a level of specialized coaching rarely offered in the PDL, or in many college soccer programs, for that matter.
“We’ve always said that one of our main commitments as a club is to player development. With that in mind, partnering with PAWS was a no-brainer,” Short said. “The foundation of your team is your coaching staff. (Manager) Branko (Savic) was a field player. He’s gone up against a thousand goalkeepers. Doug (Cardosi) is a goalkeeper by background and he’ll offer a best-practices-level of training that will help our club this season and benefit our goalkeepers for the long-term.”
Cardosi, who will run many of the Inferno’s goalkeeper-training sessions, is the son of a goalkeeper and has coached the position for over 20 years. He has been in charge of PAWS for the last decade while also running goalkeeping camps, serving as a coach for college programs and training boys and girls at elite clubs and within the Olympic Development Program.
The man nicknamed “Papa Bear” said it’s rare for goalkeepers, other than those at the top-levels of soccer, to receive the amount of specialized coaching necessary to play such a crucial position.
“It’s not a position that is well-trained across the country,” Cardosi said. “In Illinois, it’s a struggle to find quality goalkeeper coaching. At the high school level, it doesn’t happen, at clubs, it rarely happens and even in Division I college soccer, goalkeeping coaches are often part-time.
“I don’t know if the position is taken seriously. It’s hard to find good coaches out there and the kids lack because of it. Even Division I, II and III goalkeepers . . . I can tell they haven’t had a lot of coaching simply by watching the way they play.”
Cardosi speculates the Inferno’s three keepers might receive more coaching during the three-month PDL season than they will get the rest of the year.
When preparing to coach a goalkeeper, Cardosi said his first step is an evaluation period, in order to learn the player’s strengths and weaknesses. Cardosi said it would be wrong to bring a one-size-fits-all approach when coaching players with different physical attributes and technical skills. Even the Inferno’s three goalkeepers vary widely in size: McKeown is 6-foot-6, Osborne is 6-2 and Szymel is 5-10.
That being said, Cardosi said he does teach all his goalkeepers to be aggressive, and he stresses the importance of having a physical and verbal presence in the box. Instilling the necessary communication skills is an important part of Cardosi’s instruction.
“Communication can be one of the hardest things to teach, especially at the younger ages,” he said. “A keeper is essentially a coach on the field and they have to understand why certain things are said, why they are shifting players around or dropping somebody back. As they get older, we talk to them about how they are communicating, the inflection in their voice, when to get on their team and when not to.”
Cardosi said that in addition to being good shot stoppers, goalkeepers are increasingly called upon to use their dribbling and passing skills, another major focus of his training.
“The position has changed a lot in the last 10 to 15 years, which started when they got rid of the pass-back rule. Now, goalkeepers are more like field players at this point,” he said. “We teach them to come up and play behind their lines, and to play with their feet.
“You can find a ton of shot stoppers that you can put in goal and who will keep the ball out of the net. But can they do that in addition to communicating with the backline, playing with their feet, taking breakaways and commanding their box on crosses?”
According to Cardosi, specialization is another major issue facing younger goalkeepers, though not necessarily the ones who will play for the Inferno. The question often is asked: when should a player with goalkeeping aspirations start to focus exclusively on the position?
Cardosi, who has traveled extensively to observe other soccer cultures, said opinions on the subject differ throughout the world. In South America, a player is not labeled as just a goalkeeper until the age of 16, while in football youth academies in England, children as young as eight-years-old often are forced to choose between being an outfield player or keeper.
“Here in America, and in my program, we sort of split the difference,” Cardosi said. “As soon as they start playing on the big field, which his U13, we want them to make a decision about being in goal or an outfield player. Prior to that, a player can decide goalkeeping is something they want to do, but playing other positions gives them a chance to find out what they really like.”
Cardosi said PAWS offers individual goalkeeper training for players younger than 13, though sessions for that age-group are less frequent than for older players. This, Cardosi believes, also gives youngsters the time to compete in other sports, most of which help to hone the fine-motor-skills necessary to become a successful keeper.
More information on PAWS can be found at www.pawsgkacademy.com.