More important: Defender or Keeper?
Please come in. Have a seat. We have much to talk about.
"Such as?" you inquire.
"Why, relationships of course," I reply.
"I thought you wrote specifically about soccer."
"Since when?" I counter.
"Since ... (Long pause) ... OK so why relationships? Why bother?" you ask.
"Because every day we have countless relationships to maintain, strengthen, or watch deteriorate and the success or failure of these daily social interactions is based on one thing and one thing only: communication."
"Do you? Because in a truly successful relationship one side does not dominate the communications, but in fact, each side shares a mutual respect for what the other has to say. Even if both sides agree to disagree."
"Are you trying to save the world?"
"Actually, I am just trying to construct a formidable introduction."
"To this monthly piece of 'journalism' that my editor demands," I sigh.
"Carry on then," you say.
"I appreciate your imaginary support."
With a little help from my friends I will delve into what I consider the most important relationship on the field -- that between defender and goalkeeper -- and determine who really deserves the credit when the defense plays well. For as we all know, defense wins championships.
So without further Adu, I offer you, my bewildered readers, the method behind my madness: Point-Counterpoint
Topic No. 1: When the defense plays well and the team gets a shutout, why is the goalkeeper always made the hero?
Point (Joe Cannon -- Colorado Rapids -- Current MLS Goalkeeper of the Year): It will be very easy to answer your question. First of all, I have always made one assumption as a player: Every defender is as smart as a monkey (the most intelligent type) and you need to tell them everything about their position.
Counterpoint (Jimmy Conrad -- Kansas City Wizards -- Defender): Clearly someone wasn't good enough to play on the field when they were younger.
Point: Sounds to me as if some K.C. defender has a little goalkeeper envy. It's very prevalent among defenders in the league.
Counterpoint: Only if envy means having long chimpanzee arms and varying degrees of attention deficit disorder.
Point: I see how it is. We're playing prison rules. Listen, most teams will play with two forwards, sometimes one, and sometimes three. Now in the case of most teams, there are four defenders. Four versus two ... hmmm ... and you think a defender should be the hero?
Counterpoint: Preferably a centerback.
Point: The goalkeeper gets the respect because he has the sole responsibility of looking like an ass when the ball gets past him. If defenders make mistakes, the goalie is still there to clean up the mess.
Counterpoint: What if there is no mess to clean up? Are you still the hero?
Point: When the goalkeeper makes a mistake there is no one behind him. He looks like an idiot. Everyone remembers when the goalkeeper makes a major mistake. I let in a terrible goal against New England five years ago and Wolde Harris still reminds me today.
Counterpoint: Remember that cross Tampa Bay Mutiny defender Richie Kotschau hit that scored when we were both playing for San Jose? He's your teammate now; you should ask him about it. But let's get back to answering my question.
Point: Pat Onstad, Tony Meola, and even Tim Howard (as well as myself) have all let in terrible goals. The fans, the other players, they all remember these goals. However, if a defender makes a huge mistake it is normally forgotten within the year.
Counterpoint: Um, my question.
Point: The truth is society likes individuals and the goalkeeper is the individual. Do you ever wonder why they focus on the goalkeepers every corner kick? It's because they like the individual aspect of the goalkeeper, plain and simple. The goalie is always singled out even during the games where the defenders have great efforts. It's sad and life is not fair.
Counterpoint: Now we're edging toward the truth. But how about answering my question?
Point: OK, OK, I think it works both ways sometimes, but for every great defending effort there is a goalie there making saves. You just need to stop your goalkeeper envy.
Topic No. 2: When the goalkeeper has to make a great save, does the man who uses gloves and cat-like reflexes deserve the credit or does it go to the defender who left the forward wide open to put the goalkeeper in a position to be the hero?
Point (Matt Reis -- New England Revolution -- The top goalkeeper and leading All-Star vote getter halfway through the 2005 season): Basically the goalkeeper is there to bail everyone out.
Counterpoint: A nice, safe answer but let's expand on what Topic No. 2 doted upon. I think it's only fair that the defender get some credit for making the goalkeeper look like a stud. And note that this is a conversation between goalkeeper and defender. It's obvious that any sane coach would not give an ounce of credit to a defender who leaves someone wide open. All I'm looking for is a goalkeeper to admit that he needs us defenders to make a mistake to look good.
Point: OK, sometimes there is nothing you can do, the forwards just get a shot off ... (note to self: Have Matt talk to my coach) ... but we make great saves on those shots as well.
Counterpoint: Of course you do.
Point: A defender is supposed to make it as difficult as possible for the forwards. We, as the goalkeeping union, would like you, the defenders' union, to make it as predictable as possible because we are reading and playing off what you do.
Counterpoint: Can I consider that statement some credit for making you look good?
Point: Look, when a defender makes it as clear as possible then the goalkeeper can really shine and be the main attraction, which we all are.
Counterpoint: I guess not.
Topic No. 3: Should goalkeepers be considered athletes when all they do is sit at one end of the field and move their arms every once in a while?
Point (Nick Rimando -- D.C. United -- Starting Goalkeeper for the current MLS Champions and a real close friend of referee Michael Kennedy): Picture this ... we are in the 87th minute and the opposing team is on a counter attack. They are coming straight at me and I have to decide how to cut the angle, where they are going to shoot, and wondering where the heck my defenders are. Being a goalie is the definition of a complete athlete. We have it all.
Counterpoint: But according to your example, you haven't actually moved from the spot you are standing in.
Point: Goalkeepers are paid to make the big saves, to keep their team in the game, and bail out the defender who just got burned.
Counterpoint: I just went over that. Read Topic No. 2
Point: Now picture this ...
Counterpoint: Should I close my eyes?
Point: ... I am a defender that is a so-called athlete. I have been marking creative forwards all game long and the one time I have to actually use my brain, I give the ball to the opposing team and they are now on a counter attack where my awesome goalie helps me out again.
Counterpoint: Defenders? So-called athletes? We do the running that nobody else wants to do, we fight, battle, head, elbow, scratch, and claw for every ball, we protect our big-timer teammates from thugs, and we'll do whatever it takes to make sure our "awesome goalie" doesn't have to make any saves.
Point: Defenders are on the field to take up space, to make it harder for the opposing team to score, get in their way, and run a little. Yes, defenders can run more than a goalie if we do a fitness test, but that brings me to my next point. Even though we don't have to run in a game, we have to do all the fitness in practice, working just as hard as the rest of the team. It makes no sense, but we are mentally tough enough to handle it. But as soon as the defenders have to do something a little out of their job description, all we hear is complaints.
Counterpoint: All you hear is complaints because we don't have a personal coach to complain to. Defenders don't have a Defender Coach. We don't have a coach telling us how great we are and if the guys in front of us were doing a better job then our problems would be solved.
Point: No. What it comes down to is we have more brains, which is why we are where we are. If defenders had even half the brainpower that we have, they would be playing in the midfield.
Topic No. 4: Why are goalkeepers acknowledged for the shutouts they accrue but the defenders in front of them are not?
Point (Bo Oshoniyi -- Kansas City Wizards -- The No. 1 Goalkeeper in my heart): Let me start by saying that we live in a sports world that is predicated by stats and I am one goalkeeper that knows a stat like shutouts and the Goals Against Average (GAA) are team stats, the only difference is that my name goes on it whether good or bad.
Counterpoint: I don't counter the goalkeeper that plays behind me. Please continue.
Point: The same can be said for assists in basketball, meaning that no one gets a stat for setting the pick that leads to the assist that ultimately leads to the points.
Point: Or in football, the quarterback gets credit for the touchdown pass, but rarely do you hear anyone say anything about the great protection the QB was given to throw the touchdown pass. It's sad to say but being an offensive lineman, a pick setter, or a defender is a thankless job at times.
Point: The goalkeeper that thinks shutouts and GAA are all his doing is the one that has an ego bigger than the goal he guards.
Counterpoint: YEAH JOE CANNON!
Point: At the end of the day I would love to have a season with no shutouts and the highest GAA if that meant I would be able to hoist up the trophy as MLS Cup Champion.
Point: The only problem with that is we would both be out of jobs at the end of the season.
Bonus Topic (to satisfy my own curiosity): Why do goalkeepers feel the need to berate, yell, and scream at his defenders when a shot has been taken, like we meant for that to happen?
Cannon: It really depends on what shot and where it's taken from. Some goalkeepers probably use the "it's never my fault" philosophy. These goalkeepers are easily spotted and bring our profession down. The only time I blame my defenders is when I feel there is a lack of effort on their part.
Conrad: To remind us defenders that you make more money than we do and to stop making you earn your paycheck.
Oshoniyi: I think it's because a goalkeeper knows his job is on the line. It is a lot easier to replace one goalkeeper than it is a whole defense or, even better, a whole team. What can I say, that's the life of a goalkeeper. We all get a little crazy back there. That being said I think some goalkeepers like the attention of being on television.
Reis: I don't think you should be patting any of the defenders on the back for letting someone get a shot off because when a field player gets tired from running all the time and lets a forward get by them who shoots and scores, then whose fault is it? Everyone says the goalkeeper, not the 10 players that the opponent went through to get the chance. So that is why you will always see John Busch yelling at everyone.
Rimando: We are actually just trying to divert any bad press away from us. The more we scream and yell at our brainless defenders, who could easily turn and yell back but can't think of that, the less we look like the ones who messed up.
Jimmy Conrad is a defender for Major League Soccer's Kansas City Wizards. He contributes regularly to ESPN.com.