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Field general: How Phoenix Rising’s Woszczynski plays goalkeeper

Carl Woszczynski has been with Phoenix Rising for several years as the team’s goalkeeper. He is regarded as the defense’s field general and helped lead a defensive unit to no goals allowed in June. (Photo Courtesy of Michael Rincon)

SCOTTSDALE — When defending his team’s goal, a lot runs through Phoenix Rising goalkeeper Carl Woszczynski’s mind.

For example, when an opposing player breaks away during a match and races toward him with the ball, Woszczynski is yelling at his defenders to get back on defense. Then his minds starts running through a variety of reads and keys before the opposing player takes a shot.

Woszczynski examines where the wind is coming from, if the grass is dry or wet and what foot his opponent is using. He is also watching his opponent’s position to determine whether he’s going to shoot or pass, among many other reads.

Watching for a shot or a pass determines where Woszczynski plans to position himself. If a player is playing a through ball, Woszczynski will need to determine if he will be off his line to try to cut the ball off or if he needs to retreat to defend the goal if his opponent plans to take a shot.

“To you, it seems like a lot of steps where if you train a ton, 10,000 times or 100,000 times, it just clicks in your brain,” Woszczynski said.

While between the posts, Woszczynski, who has been part of the team since 2015 when it was Arizona United SC, said a goalkeeper “is a lonely position.” While the rest of the team follows the ball, the goalkeeper hangs back to defend the goal.

During his time in Phoenix, Woszczynski has joined the upper-echelon of goalkeepers in the United Soccer League. He’s been the center of Phoenix Rising defense that didn’t allow a goal through the month of June and earned the United Soccer League Week 16 Player of the Week for his seven-save performance against Orange County SC on June 29.

He’s developed his skills over time, using research and muscle memory. Phoenix Rising goalkeeper coach Cory Robertson, however, said that’s not all that matters in playing goalkeeper. Mental strength is exceedingly important.

“Besides catching the ball, it’s about 99 percent,” Robertson said.

Along with remembering all of their keys and reads, goalkeepers face significant mental challenges. Woszczynski said staying “switched on” for the entire match can be difficult.

What a goalkeeper can face varies from match to match. Sometimes, they may be kept in the fray, making numerous defensive efforts. Other times, they may be idle for a majority of the match as the offense presses.

The latter brings the challenge, Woszczynski said, of not being ready if the goalkeeper is called on to make a late save in added time.

The way Woszczynski said he combats this challenge is by communicating with his back line. This communication also plays a key part in the defensive unit’s success as the goalkeeper is the defensive leader, Robertson said.

Interim coach Rick Schantz referred to Woszczynski as a “field general” and said it comes in handy having him out there on set pieces.

“As a coach, it’s great because when you have 6,000 people in the stadium, not every player can hear you,” Schantz said. “The keeper’s right there in the mix of it and he can get everyone organized.”

Defender Joseph Farrell said Woszczynski is a vocal leader on the field who is giving reminders and directions to the back line. Furthermore, Farrell said Woszczynski is professional in his communications but isn’t afraid to get a bit fiery in motivating the defense.

“With him back there and him communicating with us, we’re able to really sort things out before they get into dangerous moments,” Farrell said.

Woszczynski remembers one of the earliest lessons he had when playing goalkeeper was to cultivate a short memory for good or bad situations.

“After you make a great save, you have to forget about it because you have to be involved in the game,” Woszczynski said. “Same thing after you get scored on or you make a mistake, you’ve got to forget about it and move on because you’re going to have to make a save five minutes later.”

Playing goalkeeper, Woszczynski said, requires a lot of mental strength and to develop that, he worked on it over time.

Although short-term memory is stressed in a match, a long-term memory can be equally as handy. A lot of preparation goes into preparing a goalkeeper for a match, Robertson said.

That preparation consists of match film study early in the week so by Tuesday, if a match is at the end of the week, the goalkeepers have an idea of their opponents tendencies and skills.

As the week progresses, Robertson said Woszczynski is applying the film study and learns what the back line’s responsibilities are in regard to the opposing team’s offensive attack. That way, he knows how to lead the defense and what each player should be doing in those situations.

Robertson has worked with Woszczynski for three years and has learned the right amount of information to give the veteran goalkeeper before a match. He’s also learned what specific information, such as free kick tendencies, Woszczynski likes and makes sure they analyze that.

“It is a big part of the game because when he’s back there, he knows … what (players’) tendencies are,” Robertson said. “It’s important to help him. Every little bit helps.”

Woszczynski has been around for a while and said that longevity helps him remember the tendencies of players from across the league.

As a whole, Robertson said what makes Woszczynski a good keeper is he makes the stops he’s expected to make. Those include the short range shorts and the easy goals.

Robertson said Woszczynski could make saves on the longer shots but what’s more important to him as a coach are the routine stops. He said Woszczynski’s teammates also take heart from his ability to save.

“They don’t really know what you can’t save but they know what you’re expected to save,” Robertson said.

“That’s the difference for when field players understand a goalkeeper’s ability, they understand that they can save everything around them but when it’s going upper 90 (corner of the goal) they also know that they might not be able to get there. That’s why there’s a lot of confidence in what Carl does.”

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