A successful goalkeeper in the North American Soocer League needs excellent hand-eye coordination, quickness, good footwork and experience.
But most of all, he needs to be a little crazy.
"People say all goalies are a bit crazy," said Washington Diplomat netman Eric (Goldfinger) Martin, the fourth-ranked goalie in the league. "You get kicked, knocked down and many times blamed for the loss. You're just like a quarterback, you make one mistake and that's the game."
When all else fails out front, the lone figure who must risk life and limb to stop a point-blank shot traveling a 70-75 miles per hour is the goa.
Martin was at his best Saturday in a 2-1 overtime win over St. Louis at RFK Stadium. He was only credited with four saves, but all were short, hard efforts.
On one occasion, Martin dove for a ball and was kicked in the ribs. In another instance, the Scotland native leaped high above several players to intercept a St. Louis pass (goalies are the only players allowed to use their hands) and was knocked viciously to the ground by a frustrated opponent.
"You are defenseless and it can be a bit dangerous. You get kicked very of ten," said Martin. "I suffered a broken collar bone and six cracked ribs in a game once in Scotland. You're out for a while then get back in there and get kicked by someone else. You don't have time to worry about injuries. You have a split second to make a decision and you do it," said the 31-year-old goalie who has played every minute of 46 consecutive games since joining Washington in May, 1975. "I've made a few mistakes this year, "explained Martin" but I wouldn't play any other sport. The secret is having good fullbacks and concentration."
Concentration is essential to the goalkeeper.
"You tend to look up in the stands, look anywhere. It's very easy to lose concentration when both teams are 90 yards away for 15 minutes at a time at the opposite end of the field," said Las Vegas' Alan Mayer, the NASL's top goalie.
"It only takes the ball five or 10 seconds to get to you, and if you aren't ready it will go right by you."
The 23-year-old New York City native and Madison College (Va.) graduate was a recent casualty, suffering a concusion in an exhibition game versus a touring West German team.
"I'm fine now," he said. "You worry more about daily of performances than a little injury. If you can't take the pressure, then you should look for another job."
Mayer Cosmos' Shep Messing (fifth in the league), St. Louis' Dave Jokerst geles Bill Mishalow and Bob Rigby and Vancouver's Arnold Mausser, voted the top American player in the U.S. last year, are a few of the highly regarded U.S. natives playing in goal in the NASL.
For several reasons, the goalie position has seemed to be a natural one for young American players. Many youngsters possess the superquick reflexes and excellent hands required.
But for some reason, while the NASL was suffering through its growing pains, it recruited foreign goalies.
Since the position is less strenuous and physically demanding than the others, many of the aging foreign goalies have been able to retain their positions because of their experience. Gordon Banks, the 37-year-old Ft. Lauderdale goalie, is still considered one of the best at his position.
Another bonus for the better soccer players, particularly goalkeepers, has been the opportunity to become professional punters and place kickers.
Martin, one of the better kicking goalies, confesses he has never booted a football in his life.
"I know I can throw one of those things and I've just never had the chance to kick one," said Martin. "Of course, if George Allen came up with a contract, I'd learn very, very quick."