Up-keeping: Goalkeeper coaches hope to raise the bar | SteamboatToday.com

Up-keeping: Goalkeeper coaches hope to raise the bar

Goalkeeper coaches hope to raise the bar

Steamboat Springs goalkeeper Ocoee Wilson lunges to get in front of a shot Wednesday during a drill at Emerald Park on Wednesday morning. Wilson

— Steamboat Springs' Ocoee Wilson has been considered by others a goalkeeper far longer than she's ever been one in her own mind.

She started being assigned the crucial position on the soccer pitch when she was eight years old, and she wasn't thrilled. Like a 7-foot-1-inch basketball player with a point guard's heart, she felt out of place and was constantly dreaming of another position.

"I liked to be on the field," she said Wednesday. "I liked to be more creative, and I felt restricted in the goal."

That's all changed, of course.

A rising senior at Steamboat Springs High School, Wilson shined for the Sailors girls soccer team last spring. Her bold and aggressive style in goal helped lead the team to its first playoff victory in nearly a decade and kept Steamboat in every game it played.

First, she came to accept her role. Now, she's come to welcome it, and at the Steamboat Soccer Academy camp this week, she worked to perfect it with a group of about 30 other goalkeepers-in-training.

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The camp worked through its final morning Wednesday at Emerald Park in Steamboat Springs, nearly 200 soccer players sprinting every which way, running and shooting and scoring.

On the periphery, Wilson and the rest of the budding goalies worked as if in another world, embracing their keystone role on the pitch.

Two of the coaches guiding them, Z Lozano and Aline Reis, understand the mentality and the struggles.

"It's a lonely position," Lozano said. "No one wants to do it, wants to get the 45-mile-per-hour shots coming at them."

Lozano signed his first professional contract to play soccer at 17 and eventually competed with the Panamanian national team. Now, he coaches in Denver, and he tries to bring what he learned playing in Central and South America to aspiring players from Colorado.

"We try to bring the style we have from South America to the United States," he said. "It requires a lot of skill and is well founded in fundamentals but involves going up in the air a lot more, is a little more acrobatic, a little less robotic and a lot more creative in the way you train."

Reis was a European pro, an all-American from University of Central Florida and a Brazilian national team player who coaches goalkeeping at UCLA.

She said regions of the United States don't take the keeper position as seriously as it's considered internationally.

"It's an undeserved position here, but not around the world," Reis said. "In some states, it's very limited, the type of coaching goalkeepers have, so there you have parents coaching their kids or coaches who have never played the position trying to help."

In Steamboat, she tried to get across fundamental lessons so athletes could build on that with their own work.

"Hopefully, when they leave here, they'll all understand a little more about the position and the technique," she said. "They can continue to improve on their own, creating good habits instead of bad ones."

Wilson knows she has a few bad habits.

She said she's better at closing off an attacker's potential shots from her right side than her left.

Her aggressiveness is her trademark, and it was enough to catch the eye of Reis. Still, Wilson is learning how best to deploy it and how to win battles, mentally as well as physically.

"It's like chess," she said. "You're taking away their next move, taking away their angles and closing down the space."

It's a spotlight position, the last line of defense, and it can be lonely.

It doesn't have to be, though, and Wednesday morning, while field players scurried around Emerald Park, a group of 30 goalies found strength in numbers.

"I'm lucky I found something I do like and that I'm good at," Wilson said. "I've been improving at keeper ever since I accepted it, and I've gotten a lot better."

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9