Nothing’s worse, Kasey Keller says, than being a backup goalkeeper.
“You just don’t get the opportunities and when you do, the spotlight is on you to take advantage of that,” Keller said.
That’s especially the case when you are backing up a legend playing fantastically in his final season. Just ask Terry Boss, who is in his second full season behind Keller with the Sounders.
In that time, he’s only played 45 minutes of one Major League Soccer match. In 2010, he also played in one US Open Cup match and three CONCACAF Champions League matches. The opportunities to gauge him in competitions were few and far between.
This year, though, those opportunities have been plentiful.
Between the US Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions League, Boss has the same number of matches that he did all of last season, with two in each competition. However, because he has also played in seven MLS reserve division matches, his game-experience has been improved massively over 2010.
“The reserve games have been great,” said Boss, who is 7-0-0 with a 0.71 goals against average in the reserve division. “That’s seven games where I’m making game decisions. You can’t really replicate that in practice. You can only get so good in practice before you have to make those decisions in games.”
While the merit of the statistics of those matches can be argued, the results of those experiences hardly can. In two US Open Cup games and two Champions League matches, Boss has allowed just three goals while winning all four matches.
He was 3-1-0 in Open Cup and CCL matches last year, but his confidence is markedly improved, particularly when comparing the matches in Estadio Tecnologico from 2010, when they allowed three rapid-succession goals to squander a 2-0 halftime lead and fall 3-2 to Monterrey. This year, they carried a 1-0 lead into the intermission and left Mexico 1-0 victors.
“I can’t speak for everyone, but I think that everyone went into that game expecting to win and they left everything on the field to get that victory. It was encouraging,” said Boss, who finished the match with four saves. “They put a lot of pressure on us the first 20 minutes of the second half and we just wore that punch and were able to get back into the game. When you’ve been there before, it’s easier to draw on that experience and go forward with it.”
Moving forward has been a key for Boss. Prior to Seattle’s group stage Champions League match against Comunicaciones last week at CenturyLink Field, his last appearance was in the second half of a friendly match against Manchester United. In that match he received a concussion and allowed six goals in his 45 minutes of work.
Bouncing back from the injury and the result were keys to the progress of Boss and his place in the conversation for the Sounders roster in 2012, when they will first have to look at life after Kasey Keller.
“That was a difficult situation. What we want to do is let him know that we’re still confident in him. We’ve put him in some big games,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said. “He played a Cup match against LA and he played in Monterrey and that’s a big game as well. He’s come through and he’s played well for us in those situations. It’s a tribute to Terry for him to be able to stay with it because that’s the sign of a good athlete. To be able to refocus is very vital.”
Goalkeeper coach Tom Dutra indicated that that element has been an area where Boss has seen marked improvement in the last year.
“It shows a lot about his character and how hard he’s worked. To come with a very good performance against Monterrey was great,” Dutra said. “He’s grown into becoming a better goalkeeper. With him, it’s about controlling his emotions and the psychological part of the game. He’s worked on that and he’s done very well. I’m very happy with his progress.”
For all the progress he may make, he’s not about to overtake Keller for the starting role this year. In the meantime, Boss will continue to work hard at his craft and play with the opportunities that he does get, whether they be in MLS, Open Cup, Champions League or reserve division action.
When the opportunities do arise, it won’t change the way he prepares for the match, though.
“Kasey is such a good pro and he’s healthy. I just prepare for every game like I’m going to start, so my preparation is no different,” he said. “The guys I’m playing with are good players and that makes my job easy. I like where I’m at, but I want to be better.”