The soccer ball is battered about for 80 minutes, players are getting beat all the time, turning the ball over, making bad passes.

A lot of bad play goes on without direct consequence, but when it happens in the final six yards everyone notices.

The ball in the back of the net is a dead giveaway.

“Goalkeeper is the one position where if you do make a mistake, it appears to be a glaring mistake because the ball is at the back of the net,” Mountain Pointe boys coach Bryan Sabato said. “If a forward makes a mistake there are 10 other players behind them. If you are the last man between the pipes there isn’t that luxury.”

It can be easy to overlook soccer goalies when a discussion of most difficult positions in high school sports start listing quarterback, shortstop, point guards and a few others.

After all if their teammates are doing their job then there is a lot downtime.

“Sometimes those are the hardest games,” Sabato said. “You don’t want tons of action necessarily, but when you do have some action you are more dialed in and prepared.”

In reality, at least for the good ones, the analyzing never ends.

The goalie is always working, organizing the defense and anticipating where the shot is going to come from so when the action does come back to their end of the field they can be a stone wall.

“The goalie is the commander and chief and everyone in front of them is the army,” Mountain Pointe girls coach Mark Wilson said. “They position the army, they know where the breakdown is happening and analyzing before the attack materializes.”

And once the attack does break midfield, especially on the smaller high school fields, that’s when the true importance of the goalie comes to the forefront.

They have to use instincts to decide whether to come out of the box or hang back; when to jump up for a corner kick or let their own defense get the dirty work. So many variables but only one prevailing thought if the ball gets past them.

“You are the center of attentions and you are one of only two players of 22 that can use their hands,” Desert Vista boys coach Mike Rabasca said. “On these smaller fields your reflexes and reactions are pretty important. They get hit far more (than club ball) because players are on you that much quicker.”

But it is not just about athletic ability either.

“They have to be great readers of the game,” said Desert Vista girls coach Marvin Hypolite, who was the national goalkeeper for Trinidad. “They have to be strong, brave and aggressive.”

The area has some good ones as the Desert Vista duo of Tim O’Brien and Alexa Ryder led their teams to finals of last year’s Division I tournaments and Kacey Curtin did a good job filling in for Ryder recently.

Mountain Pointe’s Gabriel Romano was part of a defensive unit that didn’t allow a goal until the finals of a recent tournament and the Pride’s Victor Cogco stoned the opponent on penalty kicks in the finals to help Mountain Pointe win the title of the Arizona Soccer Showcase.

Horizon Honors girls rely on Alicia Steward and the Eagles’ boys squad has a leader in Cole Powell.

“The position requires agility, power, strength and coordination,” Horizon Honors coach Patrick Andrew said. “This, coupled with the changing demands of the game, should lead coaches to seek out individuals who have the above attributes. Someone who possesses the above traits and is a little loopy, for example intentionally willing to put their face at the foot of a shooter, makes for a great keeper.”

Sabato agreed that it takes a different make up, along with confidence, to step in between the pipes.

“Every keeper is a little off,” he said with a laugh. “They are eccentric and have different personalities, but they thrive on it. You couldn’t pay me enough to be a goalie.”

There is the mental side of it too, considering they are essentially the last line of defense. When a team gives up a goal, the blame is easily placed on the one wearing the gloves despite all the others wearing the same warm ups before the game.

And don’t even get started on penalty kick situations where they might as well be on the wrong end of a firing line.

“It’s difficult and you have a 50-50 chance,” Cogco said after stopping three shots out of five for a win over Copper Canyon. “You have to read the players, look at their eyes and try to intimidate.”

It all adds to one of the most difficult — mentally and physically — positions in all of high school sports.

“People talk about quarterback and these other positions in other sports, but goalies have it hard,” said Wilson, who is one of the top net minders in the nation when he played for Division II Grand Canyon. “Everything rests on what you do and the decisions you make. The offense has to score on the other end, but that doesn’t matter if you don’t stop the ball on your end.”

The most vital part of the goalies is the fact that a team can take on the personality of its goalie.

“A good goalie allows the team to be more confident,” Rabasca said. “There’s that sense that you can make a mistake and you have someone who can back you up. It’s not shouted out. It’s just a sense and one of those important intangibles.

“There are moments in a game where they can come up with a big save, especially in a 1-0, 0-0 or down 1-0 (match) and it gives the team a huge, inspiring lift. It’s emotional and it is as close to scoring another goal without actually scoring one.”

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.

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