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Philadelphia Independence keeper Val Henderson gives a behind-the-scenes take of everyday life with the WPS expansion club. In the latest installment, Val talks about the life of a keeper and why you shouldn't say a bad thing about them.

It’s no secret that keepers are a little different from the rest. Crazies. Nut-jobs. Special. Something has to be wired a little differently to make a person want to dive face first at someone’s feet while she’s kicking as hard as she can, right? We’re our own breed.

And while each keeper has her own personality or quirks that make her different, we all have the same defining theme: keeping the ball out of the net whatever the cost. With that common goal - to deny the goal - keepers have a special bond with each other. A society. It’s called “the Union.”

Union members have a special protectiveness over each other. We understand what it’s like to be the last line of defense, to be the most exposed when a goal is surrendered. While forwards are forgiven for missing wide-open goals, giving balls away at the top of the box, or making the incorrect run, goalkeeping errors don’t go unnoticed.

A forward can play 89 minutes of mediocre soccer, then put away a goal, and become the hero. But if a keeper has a brilliant game and then makes one mistake, he or she could be losing the game for the team. It’s a tough job.

So we stick together.

When people try to blame the goalkeepers for games in the World Cup, I defend my fellow keepers to the death. “You try stopping the best players in the world when your defense collapses in front of you;” or, “You fling your body in front of a blood-thirsty forward.” Skull cracks, broken ribs, gashes to the face: a day in the life of a GK.

Criticizing another keeper is like talking about my sister. I can be as competitive with my sister as I want, but if you say a bad word about her, you better watch your back. Even if I think something negative, don’t expect me to verbalize it. You can’t break the union. We’re harder on ourselves than any other position, but we will not down each other.

So when a keeper comes out to punch the ball and you wonder why they didn’t catch it, just trust. Maybe the ball moved, or there was too much traffic, or the keeper tripped on a shoelace or saw a leprechaun. Whatever the case, there is a perfectly good explanation for what happened.

Or when a keeper makes a “tweaker” save, I don’t want to hear about it. I’ve never complained about keeping the ball out of the net. So it isn’t textbook, it’s still a shutout. If a keeper falls and does the splits, the ball bounces on his butt and goes out for a corner, you better run and thank him. The ball didn’t go in the net, right? And he’ll probably be the one to catch the corner service and start the counter attack anyway. So cut him a break, and be thankful. Goalkeepers are a gift.


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