Carlsbad United’s Director of Goalkeepers Guillermo Rodriguez on What it Takes to Be a Great Goalkeeper
When Carlsbad United F.C. Director of Operations Michael Duggan brought in Guillermo Rodriguez as Head Goalkeeping Coach at Carlsbad Lighting SC in 2002, he knew he had someone special. The years since then have only confirmed his original impression of the man who trained for ten years under former Major League Soccer (MLS) coach Nenad “Ziggy” Zigante. When Carlsbad Lightning and Carlsbad Wave merged in December 2013 to create Carlsbad United, Rodriguez, who had taken on the role of Head Goalkeeping Coach for the University of San Diego Toreros in 2009, became Director of Goalkeepers for the new club.
“Guillermo is one of the most amazing goalkeeping coaches I know, not only in the technical and tactical aspects, but as a coach and a person,” Duggan says enthusiastically. “All the goalkeepers who work with him have a profound respect for their fellow goalkeepers as well as Guillermo. He creates an amazing bond among the goalkeepers in his sessions as well as the bond he has with them. You can definitely see the influence Ziggy Zigante had on Guillermo in his work ethic, his drive and his passion. We are very fortunate to have him here with us at Carlsbad United.”
Guillermo Rodriguez on Goalkeeping – In His Own Words
I had just received a call from Michael regarding writing an article for SoccerToday News highlighting goalkeeping, and my first thought was, “fantastic!” This would be an excellent opportunity to give our youth keepers out there some insight as to where I see the future of goalkeeping trending. I could also give them a glimpse at how I went about getting to the collegiate level and share who influenced me.
My mind was racing – with thoughts, experiences and ideas all converging in my brain – and it really brought back to me some really good people who helped me out. It all made me realize how fortunate I was, when I was growing up, to play in north San Diego County in the mid/late 80s and all of the 90s.
Michael said not to focus on “this and that” about the new club, but to focus on more progressive ideas. Get into the psyche of a goalkeeper – what makes them tick, why there is such a strong brotherhood/sisterhood among keepers, what traits are needed to make it to the collegiate level, how the modern game has changed the needs of our youth keepers, why the U.S. produces such quality keepers, and so on. I wasn’t sure if I was going to sleep that night, but I knew I should sleep on it and write my GK “thesis” the next morning, after I had gathered my thoughts. Then my ever-reoccurring dream took over:
We (USD) were in our pre-game talk. For some reason Michael and Drew were ruled ineligible and Seamus, our Head Coach at USD, finally gave me my chance. Granted I am a 35-year-old GK coach at USD. The NCAA had ruled me eligible, just for that game – the 2012 Elite 8 game vs. Georgetown – and the winner would be in the Final Four.
To say I was nervous was an under-statement! Then I saw my old coach Ziggy Zigante, a local legend, motion me to come out of the dressing room to go get warmed up. “Opa Guillermo,” he said, “don’t be lazy! You play well tonight, focus on your technique and don’t do anything stupid!” My nerves calmed a little, seeing the Zig-man, but I still needed more reassurance. Then Quinney came along and said, “Nemo, not only are you going to win the game for us, we’re going to ride your form all the way to the National Championship.”
Great, now the pressure’s really on. I’m all warmed up, gloves on, ready to go; then I hear the whistle for the match to start. Bam! Rudely woken up by my alarm, it’s the next morning and I’m nowhere near D.C.
It truly is crazy how the mind works; I bet I’ve had this dream over 20 times. I guess I just really miss the college game. It’s one thing to coach in it, completely different to play in it. I can bet I’m not the only one having these dreams, but for some reason this one was so real. Then it made me think of all the people I’ve met and places I’ve been to, all the coaches I’ve had, and I got this wave of appreciation for all the people that have helped me along the way. Hopefully I mention everyone. First, let’s get after some of these questions
Diane Scavuzzo: How have changes in the modern game affected goalkeepers and why?
I think it’s now required for our keepers to have more of a field player’s touch and a really good ability to play with both feet in order to effectively switch the point of attack. Also, in that same line of thought, youth keepers must be able to control the space in behind the back 4 (or 3) and come out confidently and with more purpose. Being able to transition from defense to offense, through a volley kick or drop kick, is another essential trait keepers now must have. They must be able to release the forward, into space, and create a goal-scoring opportunity. Getting a couple assists, throughout your youth career is now the norm.
Perhaps most importantly, our keepers today must have more of a physical presence in the box. With all the long throw-ins and set pieces in the final third that are played on top of the keeper, today’s keeper must exude aerial supremacy when attacking the highest point. The ability to play tall and explosive is key; if you’re not at least above 5 ’10”, then you’ll definitely be at a disadvantage. Some ways to make up a height deficiency are explosive footwork, timing your jump in-order to maximize the apex of your jump and competing for the ball and not giving up that highest angle. Use that advantage of your arm-length.
Diane Scavuzzo: Why does the U.S. have so many great keepers?
Guillermo Rodriguez: It’s because we have great coaches here of every nationality. Ziggy Zigante, my keeper coach for much of my youth career, is originally from Croatia – a country well known for their goalkeepers and an extreme work ethic. There is a “Ziggy” in every soccer city in America; you just need to find him.
Another huge reason we have such great, athletic keepers like Tim Howard, Brad Guzan and Nick Rimando is that playing other sports at an early age, not just soccer, gives us a one-up on other countries. Basketball is a huge cross-over sport for goalkeeping. Personally, the footwork and hand-eye coordination gained through basketball really assisted me when I first started playing keeper at the age of 11.
I loved basketball as a kid, and I loved to play defense. Getting steals, blocks, and rebounds – kind of the Dennis Rodman mentality – gave me a competitive edge that I carried through my youth career and into college. Also, U.S. kids in general are bigger, more athletic and of a stronger build then their counterparts in other countries. This doesn’t always translate to a better field player, but as a goalkeeper, we definitely have that physical edge.
Diane Scavuzzo: Is there a brotherhood/sisterhood among goalkeepers, and how do you create that, as a goal-keeper coach?
Guillermo Rodriguez: I’ve been coaching since I finished up my playing career in 2002, and one of my first goals was definitely to create a brotherhood of keepers at my sessions. Blood, sweat and tears are the norm, and when you go through something like that, even just for an hour and a half, it creates an inseparable bond among youth keepers, both boys and girls.
There’s no doubt in my mind that goalkeepers work harder than any field player, and if field players were to attend any GK sessions, I think they’d have a newfound respect for their peers. I expect the best from my keepers, each and every second they’re on the pitch, and when I don’t get it, there will be some sort of punishment. They’re aware of this and I think it really brings out the best in their ability, a more heighten sense of awareness and sharpness.
The way I create that is by holding each one of them accountable to that training ethic. The brotherhood or sisterhood is just a by-product of working your butt off. Every keeper I’ve trained with or trained myself is in that inner circle; it really is a special thing.
Diane Scavuzzo: Who are your top three goalkeepers, either old school or current, and why are they there?
Guillermo Rodriguez: For Old School keepers, I have two that are on the top of my list:
The first is Peter Schmeichel. I watched him as a kid and in college, and I just loved his technique and the shape of set, in a point blank situation. I’d try to copy that “fearless” set and think about him on every big reaction save. Also his effortless distribution with his feet was something to marvel at. He’s definitely my No. 1 keeper, overall.
The next would be Jose Luis Chilavert, the incredible free-kick taker. His distribution was definitely head and shoulders above anyone else. I used to imagine – and I still do – that I’d be the one taking that free kick with my left foot (even though I’m right-foot dominant) and ping-it-in on the other keeper. I credit Chilavert with making my left foot not only functional, but a magical left foot (depending on which CUFC keeper you ask).
My New School keeper – but he’s really an old-timer still playing for Italy and Juventus – is Gianluigi Buffon. He is probably the best all-around keeper in pressure situations in today’s game, even at the ripe old age of 36. It’s unbelievable that he is only one year older than I am. His style, reach and leadership will make him one of the top keepers in this year’s FIFA World Cup.
Diane Scavuzzo: What are your proudest moments coaching?
Guillermo Rodriguez: I have three that come to mind on the coaching side:
My first, when I was with USD, was watching Drew Ilijevski (USD goalkeeper and Redshirt Senior) play, with a bum shoulder, in the 2012 NCAA tournament. It was truly amazing watching a local kid, who is both humble and extremely hard working, come into his own and dominate in the tourney. With solid performances against Northridge, UCLA, Tulsa and against an extremely hostile crowd at Georgetown, he performed well above par, and it truly was my proudest moment in college coaching, to date.
My second was watching Carlsbad keeper Matt Deemer, who is heading to Chapman University, at the Hall of Champions to earn CIF player of the year, a great accomplish. His work ethic is unmatched, as well as his attitude. He’s earned all these accolades regarding his play, but what is truly impressive to me is Matt as a person.
Finally, my third was hearing that Adam Allamaras, a Carlsbad Lightning keeper had committed to San Diego State, where he is currently a freshman. I know all the hard work he did. You won’t meet a nicer kid or a more naturally gifted athlete, and I hope this year he breaks into the starting lineup.
Diane Scavuzzo: Who most influenced your playing/coaching careers?
Guillermo Rodriguez: I was very lucky to be coached by five amazing coaches, and I would like to mention them, in no particular order:
One was Paul Taylor, the ECNL Director at Sereno Soccer Club. He was a masterful technician and motivator that lead us to CIF championship games at Fallbrook High School in ’95 and ’96. I credit him with hooking me up with Paul James, coach at Niagara University, who gave me a scholarship out of high school.
Next, then, would be Paul James, now the Director of Soccer at York University in Toronto, Canada. He was my coach at Niagara University my 1st two years, taught me how to properly play the English game and installed a fire and a passion in me that has yet to burn out.
I can’t forget Ziggy Zigante, currently coaching at TC United and Apex Soccer in North Carolina. He was my GK trainer, mentor, father-figure and all around crazy technician. I credit him with everything I know about goalkeeping. He truly brought out the best in me and made me realize my potential. Some of the craziest and most fulfilling times, on the field, were at his sessions. He really affected my life in a positive way.
Then there is Brian Quinn, the Director of Younger Boys at San Diego Soccer Club (SDSC) and USD assistant coach. Brian is a genus on the field, an exceptional motivator and a true mentor in regards to coaching. His style is like no other, and he is easily the most quality coach I’ve been around.
Last but not least is my mother, Laura DuPre, who is also my biggest fan! She coached me from four years old to U16s, and I credit her with basically everything else soccer-related that Ziggy didn’t do for me. She was very instrumental at bringing everyone together, from various backgrounds, at Fallbrook Fury and did anything and everything to put a quality team out there. Also, she gave me experiences to last 3 lifetimes – we’ve gone to every World Cup, starting in 1994 at the Rose Bowl and going through to 2010 in South Africa; every one was a new and exciting experience.
Diane Scavuzzo: What is it going to take to get my son or daughter to play at the next level, college or pro?
Guillermo Rodriguez: Every road is different and every keeper is unique, so it definitely isn’t a simple answer. First, you must have a physical presence – strong, explosive and tall, boys 5’11” and girls 5’8” at least – and your footwork must be exceptional. Second, your distribution must be consistent. Your long-, short- and mid-range balls must be hit with quality – to feet or space, depending on the situation. Third, you need to hang your hat on your shot stopping; the shape of your set must be flawless, in regards to momentum forward. And lastly, your temperament and work ethic must be of a different class. You need to love to train, and you need to have an extremely short-term memory. The only true way to accomplish all of this is through private 1-on-1 training or in a mini-group. Find that trainer that best suits you and stay consistent with your training.
Yours in Keeping
Photos courtesy of Guillermo Rodriguez
Guillermo Rodriguez is the Director of Goalkeepers at Carlsbad United F.C. and the Older Boys and Girls Head Goalkeeping Coach at San Diego Soccer Club. He also recently accepted a position as Head Men’s and Women’s Goalkeeping Coach at Cal State San Marcos. In addition, Rodriguez is a customer service representative at Callaway Golf Company. He is happily married to Sunny Rodriguez, and they have one son, Carter William Rodriguez. Rodriguez knows that Carter will one day be playing soccer, and if the elder Rodriguez has anything to say, Carter will become a goalkeeper.