On Tuesday’s podcast we talked a bit about the Women’s World Cup and the need to look at the games and performances through a different lens rather than the one applied to the men’s game.
After I returned home from recording the podcast an article in the Guardian from John Ashdown in conversation with England’s goalkeeper Karen Bardsley caught my eye.
Titled “Are preconceptions about women goalkeepers out of date,” my immediate hope was that this was the sort of thing we had been trying to get at.
Alas, it proved to be a false hope and it really offered nothing new or insightful. The irony was that I read the article just after watching the post-game show of England v Mexico on Monday on CBC in Canada.
The lead analyst Jason de Vos was critical of both goalkeepers on the goals they allowed – one of the goalkeepers was, of course, the aforementioned Karen Bardsley.
Given that Canada’s goalkeeper Erin McLeod came in for a bit of stick for the opening goal scored by Germany there seems to a pretty predictable pattern already emerging in terms of analysis.
It is going to be a tough World Cup for goalkeepers…. again.
But within the three goals conceded and critiqued, there is, I hope, an element of the point that we were trying to make.
The opening goal conceded by Canada was from a cross to the back post, the goal conceded by Mexico was a header from a corner that went over the goalkeeper while the Mexico goal allowed by England was a long-range effort that flew into the net.
The goals in question conceded by Mexico and Canada were both from crosses.
A quick look at the squad lists and player information informed me that Erin McLeod is 5′ 9″ and Cecilia Santiago of Mexico 5′ 8″.
Female goalkeepers coming in at 5′ 9″ are not going to dominate a penalty box like a 6′ 5″ male keeper nor are they physically capable of stretching to get a ball someone 8″ taller is going to reach with ease.
To criticize McLeod and Santiago for not reaching the ball is like giving Stevie Wonder a stern telling off for not being able to read sheet music.
These two goalkeepers are not going to grow no matter how much they are blamed for losing goals on account of being vertically challenged.
Would a more informed and insightful analysis not take into consideration the height of the goalkeepers?
Instead of pointing the finger of blame at the keepers, point the viewer to the build-up to the goal and how a situation that results in a cross into the box is likely to be more dangerous than we might expect while watching a men’s match.
The case of Karen Bardsley was a bit different in that she hits the tape at around 6’2″ and is one of the taller goalkeepers at the tournament.
She was criticized for her initial reaction to the long-range shot.
Fair enough but she will not be the last goalkeeper to be beaten by a long-range effort at this World Cup and more times than not it will be shorter keepers who will be victimized.
Again, there is a need to reconsider the context of such goals and perhaps the emphasis should be placed on how more it is even more important in the women’s game to make sure that long-range shots that swerve and (more dangerously) dip are blocked to begin with and don’t get through.
Now there will be old-timers out there who remember a time when male goalkeepers came in what we might call the “Nick Rimando” size.
Rimando is of course the goalkeeper for Real Salt Lake of MLS who at 5′ 10″ is a pygmy compared to the size of the average goalkeeper nowadays.
The Real Salt Lake keeper is valued for his incredible agility and reactions rather than his height – although he does have an impressive spring that allows him to challenge for crosses.
But more to the point Real Salt Lake have a couple of very big centre backs in Jamison Olave (6’3″) and Nate Borchers (6’2″) who are there to take care of high crosses into the penalty area.
Real Salt Lake understand Rimando’s limitations but are willing to accept them on account of his strengths.
A few decades ago agility and micro-second reaction times were the most prized qualities in a goalkeeper.
But that was also a time when swerving a ball was a skill few were endowed with and shots went straight and if crosses moved in the air it was predictable.
As the ball changed so did the skill sets required of a goalkeeper and in many cases size trumped all.
The evolution of the women’s game and the physical stature of the available athletes means that they have to cope with a much more unpredictable ball than keepers from a bygone era and the crossbar is still at 8′.
Surely that is worthy of mention rather than launching into criticism?
The analyst’s lens needs to be re-calibrated and it must take into account of the physical differences in the game and how that often makes women’s soccer very different from the male version.
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