Shaun Kalnasy is a professional goalkeeper for Major League Soccer’s Chivas USA. His underdog story goes to prove that with talent, lots of practice, and sheer determination you can achieve your dreams. Read along and find out how Americans are bringing their own touch to the world’s favorite game, which is still finding its footing stateside.
CCB: When did you realize you wanted to be a goalie?
SK: I realized I wanted to be a goalie when I was seven or eight. At that age I was a little bit more athletic than just the average kid so I could score goals and the team would always want me to play in the field, but I’d want to play in the goal. It was probably around eighth grade that I said this is what I want to do for a living. I want to play professional soccer.
CCB: Do you start training that young?
SK: There’s club soccer you get into, which is a select program that you have to try out for. People start that in sixth, seventh grade. The time I probably started to separate myself was freshman year in high school. I committed myself to playing professional soccer. I’d go to school, come home do homework, and lift weights for two hours. I’m from Seattle and every Saturday we’d drive to Olympia which was about an hour away and train with this goalkeeper coach who was the best in the state.
CCB: What is it that appeals to you about being a goalie?
SK: I don’t know why I liked it from a younger age. I just liked throwing my body around. I did extreme rollerblading, I did extreme BMXing. I guess you can say the position found me. The more I played it the more I fell in love with it. Now that I’ve gotten a little bit older I like the responsibility of it. I like the tactical position of it. In soccer the goalkeeper is like the quarterback. He controls the field, tells people where to go, and organizes everything. He sees the whole picture because he’s looking at the whole field from behind. I’m the last person in line. When someone hits a shot right towards the corner and it looks like its going to go in the goal and you make this great save with your body extended in the air, it’s beautiful. Touch it, turn it, and make the save. You get up and there’s this great feeling of satisfaction.
CCB: You have a Business degree (Marketing) and a Minor in Psychology from Loyola Marymount. Is that simply to have something to fall back on when your playing days are over?
SK: Yes. Right now I coach on the side and that’s how I make my living. I play, but I don’t make a lot of money. So, I do private lessons, I coach a club team, and I coach goalkeepers for a whole club. Just the other day I took a head coaching position at a high school. A lot of people when they get done playing want to continue coaching and just stay in the game. I want to pursue a career in business because it’s exciting. It provides a mental stimulation that soccer often does not. When I was entering college I was not the cream of the crop. I was the kind of person that had to bust his butt to get where he wanted to go. When I came into college I was definitely a bottom-feeder on the college team. I didn’t play for my first three years. The way that I was going to get a look, if I was going to get a look from my college coach, is I had to do very well in the classroom to make it hard for them to get rid of me. The team needs a good G.P.A. (Grade Point Average) to stay eligible. I’ve always liked business, I like numbers.
CCB: Do you have any ideas of what you’d like to do when you say business?
SK: Before I started my career playing soccer I was talking to a couple of investment banking firms that were very interested in talking to me. That’s kind of an option that is still open to me. I have no particular druthers whether I do finance, accounting, or marketing. I think life presents itself to you the way it wants to so you can’t really predict it too much.
CCB: What is a typical day on the job as a goalie? Do you prepare the same way every day in practice?
SK: If we practice at ten we have to show up half an hour before practice. You get there and all your gear is laid out for you. You get dressed. You go to the training room. Any treatment you need, maybe you need your ankle taped, or you need someone to rehab with you, or you need ice. The team goes out and trains. Training usually takes an hour and a half to two hours depending on the session. A lot of times there will be weights or conditioning with our physical fitness staff. Shower, throw your gear in the bin, head home, and that’s usually your day.
If we have a game on Saturday we’ll often have a light training on Sunday so the players who played in the game can get a light regeneration, a little jog. The players who didn’t play will do a hard training. They’ll give everyone Monday off and most times what will happen is we will have two trainings Tuesday. We’ll do training from 10-12, have a little break. In our case we’ll have a mandatory Spanish class, mandatory English class because Chivas is Mexican-American. So a lot of people don’t speak Spanish, a lot of people don’t speak English. Afterwards we’ll come back and have another training session from 4-6. Most weeks we’ll have two practices on Tuesday and one practice the rest of the week. Sometimes the really hard weeks we’ll have two practices Tuesday, Wednesday, and a single.
CCB: How about game days?
SK: A regular game day we usually play in the evening. So say it’s a seven o’clock game the team will go to a hotel probably four hours before the game. They’ll meet there and have a team meal, talk strategy, to seclude them from their families so their minds can concentrate on soccer. They’ll hang out at the hotel for a couple of hours. They’ll come to the stadium about an hour and half before game time. From there about a half an hour to get your gear, treatment, and whatever you want. About an hour before the game starts go over the starting lineup. Last little technical bits like what they want to do for offensive and defensive free kicks. Then the team goes out and warms up, comes back in. They put on the game jerseys. They go back out have the starting lineup and then play the game. Come back after the game shower, change, and then the media is allowed into the locker room. After the media leaves players are free to go.
CCB: How often do you play in a week?
SK: Normally we’ll either play one or two. Usually we have a game every Saturday, sometimes it’s on Sunday. There’s another soccer competition called the US Open Cup and that’s a tournament that any team in the US can enter, any Sunday men’s league team, semi-professional, lower division professional… Basically the theory is that a Sunday men’s league team could make it and play a major league soccer team. It’s a huge tournament and it takes three to four months. We played three games and we lost. We lost to the LA Galaxy, another MLS team, so we are out of that.
CCB: How many games are there in a season?
SK: Thirty two. The team arrives for pre-season February 1st. Pre-season all of February and March. The games run from March to late October and then the Playoffs run from late October to the middle of November. All in all it’s a nine month season. It’s pretty long.
CCB: How does the team prepare for opponents? Is that mostly through watching video and scouting reports?
SK: We’ll play a game a day or two before the actual game and it will be like the practice team versus the first team, inter-squad scrimmage. Have the practice team emulate the other team’s style that they are going to be playing against. If it’s a team that plays a very direct style going from the back and bypassing the midfield and going straight to the front, they’ll try and emulate that style. As a goalkeeper all you can prepare for is to know who takes the free kicks, and who takes the penalty kicks. Once you know their style and their lineup those are the major things that you are looking at.
CCB: You graduated from college and then what happened.
SK: I actually graduated in May of 2004 but I still had a year of eligibility because my freshman year at Wake Forest I red-shirted. That means I could play five years. I enrolled in the MBA program for the fall semester of 2004-2005 and the college soccer season is in the fall. I played in the fall and when I finished I actually put my MBA program on hold and got invited by the LA Galaxy to come to a closed tryout. So the LA Galaxy held a tryout for local players they wanted to see by invitation only. Went there, it was about sixty players, about ten goalkeepers. I played well the first two days and so they invited me to stay a third day. I stayed the third day and we played the U-20 national team. I played pretty well in that game and after that they didn’t say anything so I moved back home to Seattle. Every day I was on the phone calling coaches, calling people I knew, saying I’m looking for a team to play. I want to get a job and I want to make this my career. Actually had a couple of things lined up and at the end of January when the Galaxy called me back and said we like what we saw and we’d like to have you here for pre-season. We need to have you here in a week. I packed up all my stuff and moved back to California. I was with the Galaxy for two months and it became apparent I was not going to be able to get a contract with them so I went and talked to some other teams and got invited in by Chivas to come and train with them. I was with them for about three weeks and then they decided to sign me to a contract.
CCB: What’s it like being part of an expansion team in Chivas?
SK: It’s difficult and we’ve had a trying season. It’s doubly hard because we are trying to integrate a Mexican team into an American soccer league. It’s hard because we have the language issue.
CCB: How is the Mexican style different than the American style of play?
SK: The Mexican style of play is very attack minded, very toca toca. That means touch, touch. They want to have everybody involved with the play and they want to keep possession although if the goalkeeper gets it he will never knock a long ball. He will keep possession and play it to one of his defenders or one of the midfielders. Then what they want to do is knock it around the midfield and if they have to keep possession with the defender they’d rather go backwards with the ball to the defender than knock the ball forward taking a fifty-fifty chance. We’ll keep possession and are very flashy on the ball, tricky, and crafty. The Mexicans don’t defend very hard. When it gets close to the goal then they will really start defending.
The U.S. style of soccer is very physical. It is not the most technical, we are not the most gifted soccer players, but we are the most gifted athletes. There are a lot of players in the league that are incredible athletes that can jump out of the roof, they can run by a gazelle but they don’t have the best soccer abilities. They can’t pass the ball that well, they can’t shoot the ball all that great, but they are great athletes. It’s more direct style. (Like the English where the goalie has the ball, chucks it downfield, and the players try to win the ball. It’s also heavy on crosses to the forwards.) It is very high pressured defense the whole hundred yards of the field. It’s not the most technically gifted, but a very athletic game.
CCB: How difficult is it to stay healthy as a goalie?
SK: Very. (Laughs) With the nature of the position you are pounding your body into the ground, throwing your body in the air. You have people coming and hitting you and have balls flying at your face. You will just get injured. I’ve pulled my back, hamstring, groin, calf, Achilles, chest, every muscle I’ve pulled at some point. You are going to pick up knots, really bad bruises on your hips, twisted ankles, and jammed fingers. My fingers are kind of deformed. It’s hard to stay healthy. I’ve had two knee surgeries on my right knee. I broke my left scapula in half. I’ve had really bad rotator cuff problems because of my broken shoulder. I dislocated one of my fingers pretty bad that the first knuckle went up, the second went to directly the left, and the third knuckle was pointing at my face.
CCB: And you’re still in your early twenties, right?
SK: I’m 23. I’ve had a little bit of bad luck, but most goalkeepers that have been around awhile have picked up some bad injuries like that. The hard part is staying healthy day in and day out excluding those big injuries. Picking up a charley horse on your quad or your quad will get bruised because the grass is really hard. That’s why we have to be careful and stay in good shape and have a lot of training staff. It’s very demanding on our bodies. If you look after your body, you can stay relatively healthy.
CCB: Have you had any people you looked up to in your career?
SK: Have you heard of Casey Keller? He is the number one goalkeeper in the United States right now. He has played with the United States national team since 1989, maybe. He was the starter for the US in 1998. He was a backup in 1990 and 2002. In my opinion, he’s by far the best goalkeeper in the United States. He is from Olympia, Washington.
His stepfather is the goalkeeper coach I trained with. His stepfather coach ended up training him. Casey Keller has always been my idol as a goalkeeper because he’s technically clean. He is a professional on and off the field. In my opinion he’s the best goalkeeper in the United States and one of the best in the world.
CCB: And he’s from Washington.
SK: And he is from Washington. I actually had the distinct pleasure of training with him one day because one of his friends is one of my closest friends.
CCB: How did you learn about being a goalie?
SK: For me I learn a lot because I am a student of the game. I’m not the most athletically gifted, I’m not the strongest, and I’m not the fastest kid out there. I’m pretty much average. But I have a good kinesthetic sense of my body and I’m very coordinated. I kind of had to use those attributes to get myself where I wanted to be. I would study video and by watching video I could tell how I needed to move my body and replicate that. I was always watching videos of games, seeing myself training, seeing what I did wrong, what worked. Watching as much soccer as I could and the rest of it would be going to goalkeeper specific camps. I learned the most in my private training with coaches and playing in games. The best thing you can do as a goalkeeper is play games.
CCB: How much of being a goalie is based in athleticism? How much instinctual?
SK: There are many goalkeepers who’ve made their living being incredibly athletic. There are many goalkeepers who have made their living being instinctual.
CCB: It must be a combination.
SK: It is. It’s a combination of athleticism, technique, instincts, knowledge of the game, and natural ability. Then people will mix and match and play to their strengths. One of my strengths is that I’m technically clean. I’m athletic, but as far as professionally and in college I was not the most athletic. A huge part of being a goalkeeper is the mental aspect because being a goalkeeper is about consistency and how few mental errors you can make. I’m always working on becoming more intuitive and being able to anticipate the game more. One of the great pieces of advice I received in my life was, “Don’t practice what you are good at. Practice what you’re not good at.” You have to always be filling in the gaps of what you are not proficient at.
CCB: Do you have any advice for people interested in becoming a professional soccer player?
SK: There’s another great quote, but I forget who said it. “Everybody wants to be a winner but not everybody wants to prepare to be a winner.” Everybody wants to be a professional but not everybody wants to prepare to be a professional. It takes a commitment to working on the things you are not good at. Ask some coaches what you aren’t good at. It requires a love for the game. If you love the game and that’s something you want to do, absolutely you can do it. It requires a belief in your self. It requires a lot of patience because something is going to happen and you are going to get knocked down and you have to get back up. Some people more than others. I happened to get knocked down a lot. My coach at Wake Forest when we had our meetings freshman year said I don’t think you are good enough to play Division I soccer. I don’t think you are good enough to probably play Division II soccer. But, if you want to transfer and try to play Division I soccer I will be more than happy to give you your release. I said yes, thank you very much. I’m going to go play professional soccer whether you think I can play Division I soccer or not. Now that I am a professional I’ve noticed everybody has worked on their game whether it was playing as many games as they could or getting out and training as much as they could. You have to get out on your own apart from practice and play. But the best advice I can say is be patient, make a commitment, and work towards it every day. The cards will fall where they will.
CCB: What is the most difficult part of your job?
SK: Not being a starter. You have to go out everyday preparing like you are going to be a starter. Especially as a goalkeeper there’s only one position on the field and only one person can play. So far this year we’ve had one goalkeeper play all the games. It’s hard because I have to prepare to wait. Knowing that you are going to be sitting on the bench unless an injury happens you have to be mentally and physically ready. That’s the hardest thing, being prepared. It’s frustrating, it’s discouraging. You train. You play well and you still don’t get a shot. Being positive and not giving up is probably one of the hardest things.
CCB: What has been the coolest or most rewarding thing about the job so far?
SK: Getting up everyday to train. The farther you go in athletics the better people get. I get to play soccer with twenty seven other great soccer players who love the game, who have a passion, and are damn good at it. (Beaming with pride) I get to play soccer with other professionals.
CCB: People would be surprised to learn what about your job?
SK: I don’t make a lot of money because I’m a first year player. I work three to four hours a day. I get up at 9:00 o’clock and am done by one. I’m not complaining.
CCB: What has surprised you the most?
SK: The level of play.
CCB: Why do you think soccer isn’t as popular in the US as in other countries? Is it the lack of goals? Is it a cultural thing?
SK: It’s a lack of understanding of the game. It’s a relatively young sport. There hasn’t been a good product. I think the league is getting better and better. They are getting better about marketing.
CCB: Why have American goalies been so successful overseas in the top leagues? (Tim Howard, Casey Keller, Brad Friedel to name a few.)
SK: Americans are very good with hand-eye coordination. We have baseball, basketball, football, all hand-eye coordination sports. Europe doesn’t have as many hand-eye coordination sports. They have tennis, some places have rugby, but it’s not really the same. Based on our sure numbers of people we have great athletes. They are good with their hands, can catch balls. You combine all those factors and it makes for some good goalkeepers.