CONCACAF U-17 Championship’s Caldwell and Louro Represent Strong Foundation Among Residency’s Four Goalkeepers
With only one starting position up for grabs, a team’s goalkeeping dynamic tends to be one of the most intriguing from a competition standpoint.
For the U.S. Under-17 Men’s National Team, Jeff Caldwell has established himself as the starter during the USA’s run at the 2013 CONCACAF U-17 Championship in Panama.
But among the U-17s at the Residency Program, there are plenty of alternative options waiting in the balance and pushing each other along the way. Evan Louro has teamed with Caldwell as the USA’s goalkeeping tandem in this tournament, while Residency keepers Paul Christensen and Carter Richardson have also been integral to the competitive nature within the group. Louro and Christensen have been the longest tenured Residency goalkeepers while Caldwell and Richardson joined in the early fall of 2012.
“Bringing in Jeff and Carter completely changed the dynamic of the four because it raised the level of training,” U-17 MNT goalkeeper coach Anthony Latronica said. “It started to establish a culture, and each of them pushed one another in as positive of a manner as you could hope. That’s the nature of our position – there’s one guy and there’s the next guy. But you always have to be ready because you’re one injury or one red card away from playing, and you’re one injury or one red card away from traveling. There’s motivation along the way.”
The goalkeeping corps has soaked in Latronica’s approach with the team, and it helps that he has been through the rigors with various U.S. Youth National Teams (U-20s and U-23s), played in Europe (Millwall in England and Monselice Calcio in Italy) and played domestically for various MLS teams for several years.
“He’s been very helpful, and you can just tell that he cares about what he does,” Louro said. “He’s been through it and he’s been a professional, he knows what to do and when to do it. Because of his style, it’s kind of like training with five people – four goalkeepers and a coach. It makes it easier.”
“He’s been great,” Caldwell said. “I came in and I’ve never had a full-time goalkeeper coach before I got here. He has taken most of my technique and polished it up, or in some cases built it from scratch because there were some areas of my game that were not as developed. He’s helped me round out my game and become more of a complete goalkeeper.”
Two themes – among many – that Latronica has focused on with the four Residency goalkeepers are playing well with their feet and improving their ability to read the tactical part of the game. For a player such as Caldwell, who had been a goalkeeper his entire career and never a field player, it is integral toward the team’s possession-oriented approach.
“We expect our keepers to play out of the back and build from the back, not only with their feet but with their throwing distribution, as well,” Latronica said. “A lot of people don’t teach that as much as they should. And we’ve created a functional environment in training that looks like what they’re going to face in the game to help them read the game and go over scenarios, how to effectively communicate, the timing and accuracy of the communication, staying connected to the back four and not be a disconnected goalkeeper.”
Setbacks and Opportunities
The road for all four players is bound to have some bumps along the way, and shortly into Caldwell’s Residency tenure, he suffered a left shoulder injury before the 2012 Nike Friendlies.
“It was kind of a freak thing where we were doing a finishing drill on Thursday morning, I dove, went fully extended and felt a little bit of a pop,” Caldwell said of his left shoulder injury. “I didn’t really think much of it, and then about 30 or 40 seconds later, I landed again in the same place and felt my arm go real weak. I had a lot of trouble lifting it up.”
The injury was a sprained capsule on the back, just to the bottom left of the shoulder. The U-17s had a short break before the Nike Friendlies kicked off the following week, but Caldwell was not able to return in that time frame.
“It was a little frustrating and kind of a setback, but after the Nike Friendlies we didn’t really have any intense competition for a while until the restart of the semester,” Caldwell said. “I stayed involved in trainings and serving a lot with my feet, so it wasn’t like I couldn’t move around.”
In retrospect, it was beneficial for both Louro and Caldwell. U-17 MNT head coach Richie Williams gave Louro some regular playing time at the Nike Friendlies, providing Louro with the platform to perform well and solidify his spot on the CONCACAF U-17 Championship roster. Caldwell, meanwhile, had enough of a stretch where he could work his way back in time for the big tournament in Panama.
“I think it was good for me,” Louro said. “I appreciate that the coaches had faith to put me in. I’d imagine it was tough for Jeff because he was pretty pumped and it’s held in the United States with all your friends there watching. It was a good opportunity for me to step in and show what I can do, and I thank Coach for putting me in for that.”
“You’re going to get hurt at times,” Caldwell said. “Obviously the timing wasn’t great. It was one of those things where I would have loved to have been there, but it does happen. Evan and Paul did well. I’m glad it was then, compared to two weeks before going to qualifying. In hindsight, it was better timing than it could have been, and you learn from it.”
Latronica on Louro’s Game
Louro’s raw ability in the goal has never been in doubt. Latronica says the mental and informational approaches to the game were something that he wanted to work with the most for the New York Red Bulls Academy product. Considering the amount of information goalkeepers have to assess and process, those areas of the game significantly improved for Louro.
“Obviously they’re all young for the position – very young,” Latronica said. “What he understands is that the daily approach in training, the consistency in not giving up goals in training and in our friendly matches, it starts building trust over time, and you constantly process information and learn from it. He is taking that information that we provide in a positive way and applying that in training.”
Latronica on Caldwell’s Game
Caldwell has only been with the Residency group for eight months, but Latronica has been impressed with the North Carolina Fusion product’s demeanor from the get-go.
“What Jeff brought to the table immediately was a work ethic, a great attitude, extremely good listening skills and he’s very intelligent,” Latronica said. “Coming from the soccer background he came from, there’s going to be a natural adjustment from a soccer standpoint. But in saying that, he has certain tools psychologically that helped him and he had a good foundation physically, as well as technically. You take all those components of a game and you pull them out one by one and you work on them, and then you plug them back in and you see what it looks like on the weekend. Jeff from the beginning started that process and was able to take the information and apply it and do well. In his first international trip, he did extremely well. That was the first true gauge that we knew potentially he could be the guy we could count on.”
Both goalkeepers have described the competitive atmosphere as a positive one, even though the nature of the business is tougher for the keeper who does not crack the starting lineup.
“We don’t look at it as a No. 1, 2, 3 and 4. We all go to training and we all work hard,” Louro said. “At the end of the day, it’s not our decision – it’s whoever Coach Williams and the staff decides. We’re all friends. We all live together and mess with each other, play video games.”
“The entire time I’ve been here, it has been really positive and competitive,” Caldwell said. “Everyone wants the spot and the job. It’s been a competitive environment. There’s no animosity among us. We all push each other and work hard. At the end of the day, we understand who’s earned the job.”