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Season review: Chris Seitz

Editor’s note: PSP is running season reviews for each Philadelphia Union player — one per weekday for the next few weeks. You can read all the reviews here.

When Tim Howard arrived at Manchester United, he struggled. The man long touted as the next great American goalkeeper made mental errors, misjudged crosses, and played himself out of a job. So where is he now? The undisputed number one at Everton.

While Howard needed a change of scenery to blossom, Chris Seitz can take that step here in Philadelphia.

Seitz has an impeccable pedigree. He was the Defensive MVP of the College Cup when Maryland won the title in 2005, and he backed up Nick Rimando on RSL’s 2009 Championship team.

He strikes an imposing figure in goal. At 6’3″ and 230 pounds, Seitz has the ability to dominate the penalty area and shut down the angles on breakaways. The most striking thing about his highlight reel is how many diving, flying, acrobatic saves he makes. He has a combination of physical attributes that make coaches use phrases like “limitless” or “the sky” when describing his potential.

The Mental Game

The attribute that often sets the great players apart from the rest, however, is confidence.

Looking back over the Union’s inaugural season, it is hard to say what triggered Seitz’s loss of this essential characteristic. There were low points like the Jaime Moreno goal (which should not have been allowed) and the Toronto FC match in April. These were mistakes that left fans wondering what the Union brass saw in this 23-year-old goalie, and how long the team would continue to support him.

“I just have to show everyone that it’s my job in preseason. I have to come in fit and have confidence.” — Seitz, speaking about 2011

It is the curse of the goalkeeper: You only get a few chances each match to prove your worth. The truth is that the Union as a team were playing without the confidence and consistency.  Seitz will take a lot of heat for his play in 2010, but it was an inconsistent year for the entire squad. As Danny Califf told KYW’s Philly Soccer Show in mid-August, Seitz has the talent turn the corner at any time.

2010 Statistics

His line reads: 22 starts, 23 games played. A 5-12-6 record. A 1.8 goals against average that puts him only slightly behind Troy Perkins of DC United, the goalie many expected the Union to sign. It’s a stat line that reflects both Seitz’s struggles and the Union’s offensive style of play. When six or more players commit forward, the goalie better have a great day. Too often, Seitz wasn’t great, and he doesn’t use the attacking play as an excuse. “I came from an attacking team,” Seitz told PSP,  “so I knew what to expect here.”

But for all of the criticism Seitz endured, it’s surprisingly easy to find a respectable collection of his highlights. On June 5th, Seitz made his best save of the season on Marco Pappa. Pappa surprised everyone by spinning in the box and lofting a shot towards the upper corner of the near post. Seitz sprung to his right and tipped the ball out of play. Even watching it now, the save takes your breath away. Before Chicago doubled their lead late in the same match, Seitz made a terrific diving stop on (future Union winger) Justin Mapp. A subsequent failed clearance led to the second Chicago goal. And it’s moments like those that destroy a keeper’s confidence.

“Don’t be someone that you’re not. You just have to be yourself and let it all play out.” – Seitz on his role in the locker room

High Point

The high point of the season for Seitz is a bit counterintuitive. On August 8th in Dallas, Brad Knighton received his first start of the season in a move that clearly put the starting job up for grabs. Knighton received an early red card and Seitz came off the bench cold to face a penalty kick. While he couldn’t save the penalty, Seitz made a series of stops on Brek Shea and Milton Rodriguez to keep an in-form Dallas team from running away with the match. Neither of Dallas’s second half goals were on Seitz – a Cunningham tap in and a breakaway – and it seemed as though, with his back against the wall, Seitz had taken a big step. When the Union bent, he hadn’t broken. And the team recognized it.

Too often, Seitz was alone as the Union attacked and attacked. (Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz)

Over the next month, the Union lost only once. That defeat, a terrible 2-0 thrashing by DC United, was the only game after Dallas in which Seitz game up more than one goal until the last game of the season. But when Brad Knighton shutout Chivas de Guadalajara (thanks to a glaring open-net miss by Michel Vazquez) and Seitz gave up a soft goal to KC in the next match, Peter Nowak decided to give Knighton an extended run in net.

Second string

What followed was the Union’s best defensive run of the season. A shutout win over the Fire, a 1-0 loss to San Jose and a 3-0 victory over Chivas made it appear like the Knighton-Seitz switch was a formula for success.

But there was something else at work. The win over the Fire marked another major change in the Union lineup: Sheanon Williams started at right back. While Williams has been almost universally praised for his contributions, little has been made of how much the Union’s back four improved as a unit when he joined. While Seitz faced five shots on goal per game, Knighton faced a full shot less. It’s unfair to Knighton to say this accounts for all his success, but it’s also unfair to Seitz to miss the connection. Although many have.

Looking forward

When asked how he will prepare for next season, Seitz is clear in his intentions.

Seitz says he used the two-week break in June to step back and assess his season. He is confident in his abilities, and it shows in his playing style. When he has to react without thinking, he is often stunning. When he makes the game too complicated, his confidence wanes.

“I have my responsibilities and part of my job is to relay that to the defense.” — Seitz

Seitz has both types of memory a goalie needs: He has a short memory for mistakes and a strong memory for tactics. When asked about how Sheanon WIlliams changed the Union’s play, he can explain in detail how the Union improved with a consistent back four. He recognizes how a team feeds off a goalie’s confidence, and speaks often about the importance offseason training will play in his success next season. He will fly home to California for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but otherwise he will be in Philadelphia all winter preparing for the new season.

(Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz)

Is there a chance Seitz won’t be on the Union next year? Absolutely. He didn’t fully claim the starting job and that puts his future in doubt. Beyond that, Seitz played a few games for the Portland Timbers on loan when he was on RSL and that familiarity could lead Portland to select him if he isn’t protected. But if the Union let Seitz go, they need to have a very reliable backup plan in place. While Seitz didn’t lock down the number one job, neither did Knighton. How the Union will handle the position going forward is a question that will be debated until the expansion draft protection list is announced.

But Seitz isn’t worried. There are things a player can control and things he can’t. Can: Conditioning, confidence, on-field relationships. Can’t: Management’s decisions.

When Seitz talks about soccer, he speaks of responsibility, consistency and hard work. If he can put those words into action in the offseason, Union fans will realize why their number one’s trophy case holds both personal awards and championship cups.

(Cover photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz)

11 Comments

  1. Thanks for the great article. It was nice to read about the good things Seitz has done and is capable of. Has he made mistakes, sure, but so has Knighton and I’m happy to see that you pointed out that neither man proved themselves the starting goalie. I just hope that Seitz is given another chance with the improved defense.

    • If he’s not taken in the expansion draft, I suspect he will be, provided the Union don’t sign another goalie. Seitz is too young and has too much talent not to get another crack at playing somewhere.

      • I just tried to listen to the Califf, podcast and it’s says file not found. I’m disappointed as I missed that earlier. Maybe you should get rid of that link.

      • Looks like it’s problems with CBS Radio’s link. They did some changes to their online set-up. We’ll check with KYW and get it fixed. Thanks for the heads-up.

      • Thanks for looking into this Dan, I’ll keep checking back

      • looks like they either decided not to or can’t fix this link. Oh well.

      • Some things work more slowly than others, unfortunately, and this one is out of our control. But we hope to get them all fixed, because it affects every podcast before the the change — which includes some of our best shows. Rest assured, as soon as it’s fixed, we’ll post something here and on our Facebook page to let everyone know.

  2. I think he did his best- and I agree that it’s entirely possible for him to become a starter. But I just don’t want to risk the Union season for that possibility. I hope the Union invest in that position.

  3. I’ll be interested to see how the Union handle the goalies situation in the expansion draft. One argument says, hey, both of these goalies are decent, neither a true starter, leave them both out there, if we lose one, we still have a good backup to put behind a starter we acquire. The other direction has to look at protecting one (or even as a remote possibility both). Is Sietz’s or Knighton’s future too good to give up? Tough to say, really. Nobody knows. The Union also have invested 175K in Seitz’s services but got Knighton for free through the expansion draft. Does that play in here? Protecting an investment? If one of these guys is destined to be the backup behind a reliable starter next year I have to make the case to keep Seitz. With his goalkeeping coach from college (Vartughian) in the Union fold, Seitz is not only a valuable commodity, but a long-term prospect with consistent coaching. Vancouver is coming into this draft with a reliable starter in Jay Nolly and Portland much the same with Steve Cronin. Both have the potential to acquire an even better keeper elsewhere, but might also be in the market for a strong number #2. That makes me a little leary of leaving a prospect I care about open to either of them. I would use a protected roster spot to keep Seitz but I will be openly disappointed if we are starting either of these guys next year.

  4. I am very mixed on the subject. I have felt since the start that a lot of the issues Knighton/Seitz have had this year comes down to bad coaching on Vartugian. I say that because of Perk, the fact that our keepers have talent, but can’t seem to perform and the fact that when I have seen the keepers warming up Vart is dressed up in goalie gear and gloves, looks like a tool and puts out a vibe of “I want to play more than coach”. Anyway… Knighton seems destined to be a backup for most of his career while Seitz I could see being a legitimate and good starting keeper. The problem is Seitz is a long term gamble and at his current salary, which has his guaranteed compensation higher than Le Toux’s, I don’t know if the risk is worth the possible reward. Going into the expansion draft I am hoping to see both unprotected because I feel the Union have other players that have a greater likelihood of becoming stars. I would be upset seeing Seitz or Knighton protected and end up losing Nak, Jacobson, or Salinas because one of them would be the odd man out if we use a spot for a goalkeeper (almost definently Nak). Nowak/Hackworth got almost everything with this team right, but maybe the goalie spot was the one mistake. I am almost of the opinion that because the U have a good spot in the draft and the people above them are not likely to take a keeper maybe look at drafting a new young keeper and turn around and buy a veteran keeper. I would not be upset if the Union had a DP goalie. Shay Given is surplus at Man City and Dida is currently unemployed, but both are likely wishful thinking on my part.

  5. Pingback: The Philly Soccer Page » 2010: The best and worst of Philly soccer

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