It is a widespread, almost cliché opinion/analysis, but one that is also deeply-rooted in fact: goalkeepers – as a last line of defence – can be absolute difference makers for any soccer side.
And that’s especially so for a team like Valour FC, which gave up a Canadian Premier League-high 52 goals in 28 matches last season and was minus-22 in goal differential.
Let’s also be especially clear about this: goalkeeping is hardly the sole reason for those grotesque numbers and it’s worth noting that exactly half of the teams eight wins last season came with goalkeepers Tyson Farago and Matthias Janssens posting clean sheets.
Still, it’s no coincidence that as Valour FC readies for the ‘Island Games’ tournament in Charlottetown, PEI – the team is scheduled to depart this weekend — there are also two new keepers on the roster in James Pantemis and Matt Silva.
It’s also a perfect place to start in the first of four Valour FC positional previews heading into the tourney…
“I always say that being a goalkeeper is 95 per cent mental because for most of the 90 minutes you are alone,” began Pantemis in a chat with valourfootball.club. “You’re in your box trying to keep yourself focussed at all times. It’s possible you might not see a ball for 89 minutes and then in the 90th minute your team needs you to make a save and you’ve got to be ready for it because that one play could cost you the game or win you the game.
“The way I look at it, the more my defenders can help me out and make the shots as visible as possible, or block shots or not even have them shoot… I’d obviously prefer that. If they make my job easy, then we have a clean sheet and take the three points. And if I have to step up to make a save then it’s not only a boost to myself, but it could maybe help bring some energy to the team.
“There could be moments in the game where we’re struggling and we might need that boost of energy that comes from a save or a great block from a defender.”
Pantemis, 23, comes to Valour on a loan agreement from the Montreal Impact, where he has spent the last three years after signing with MLS club in 2017. He’s also the leading contender to be in the net for Canada’s Olympic team, which was to be competing in the Concacaf qualifying matches this past spring.
“One of the main things for me this season is to get those minutes in and get into a rhythm,” said Pantemis, whose last full match was the Impact’s 2-1 win over Cavalry FC in the Canadian Championship last August. “Now I’m going to be put into a situation where we could be playing three games in a week. It’s going to be interesting to see how we all approach this.”
Pantemis will be pushed by Silva, the 29-year-old veteran who made 68 appearances for Swedish Division 2 club’s Bodens BK an Osterlens FF from 2016-18, but was limited to just one start last year for York9 due to injuries.
“In my opinion, whether you’re the No. 1 or the No. 2, you should always be training like you’re the No. 3 – meaning that you need to work to get better with extra training and extra work,” said Silva. “At the end of the day it’s not my decision who plays or who gets the minutes. That’s up to the coaching staff to decide what’s the best for the team.
“It’s our job, not just as goalkeepers, but everybody to make sure that even if you’re not part of the starting 11 you are still part of the team. It’s a collective. When I get the chance to play, in my mind I know what I can do. I’ve been a starter and I know how to act as a starter. I’m not worried.”
Ht: 6-3. Born: 2/21/97
Rob Gale on Pantemis:
“A terrific goalie. Outstanding. He makes some of the impossible things seem possible. He pulls off some terrific saves, is good with his feet in distribution. There’s a reason he’s so highly thought of by an MLS club. We look for him to be one of the best, if not the best, goalkeepers in the tournament.”
Matt Silva on Pantemis:
“He’s very mature and knows how to be a professional at a young age. He understands the system, he’s very good with his feet, his hands. Good shot stopper. He just looks like an all-round goalkeeper. We’re both passionate. We both don’t like to lose and we’re both big on the small details. I know there’s a six-seven years age difference, but he’s like another friend, another goalkeeper out there. We’re going in day in, day out to get better. Of course there is the competition between each other, but it never feels like there’s anything in malice. We’re just pushing each other and trying to get the best out of each other.”
Ht: 6-1. Born: 3/28/91
Rob Gale on Silva:
“He’s been a welcome addition to the group. He’s an experienced guy and a real competitor. Great agility and he and James work really well together in their training alongside Patrick (DiStefani) our goalkeeping coach. They both think about the game and Matt’s very much a coach on the field who understands what we’re trying to do.”
James Pantemis on Silva:
“He’s a great person to be around. He’s a great professional and that’s helpful for me to be around. I can see how he prepares in the gym and works in the sessions. We have a very good relationship. We’re always asking each other questions and I like that open communication that we have and how we’re open to constructive criticism as well. I see the energy he brings and the confidence he has and that’s great for our group.”