The Solo Save
By Dan Gaspar
Founder, Star Goalkeeper Academy
Coach, Connecticut Wolves (Pro A League)
The breakaway occurs when the attacker with the ball has penetrated the last defender. The moment of truth arrives when the goalkeeper is the only opposing force available to stop the attacker from drilling the ball into the back of the net. These saves requires a tremendous amount of courage on the part of the goalkeeper. This is such a key game situation. In one play the keeper has the opportunity to completely frustrate the opponent, gain the respect of his/her teammates, and to change the momentum of the entire match and to become the game MVP. Just like a penalty kick, however, not even the best keeper in the world can consistently stop even a mediocre attacker who finds themselves in this fortuitous situation. Fortunately, knowing the proper methods and practicing them can certainly help improve the odds of success.
There are three stages at which the save may be made in a breakaway situation. The first, and obviously the most advantageous, is before the shot is taken. The second is during the process of the shot being taken. Finally, if the shot cannot be prevented or stopped in progress, it must be saved after it has been taken. Obviously this is the least favorable alternative.
To effectively deal with the breakaway situation the goalkeeper must rely on the following visual cues: the speed and the angle of the ball, the speed and location of the first attacker, and the presence and location of any other attackers. The keeper must also consider the nature and conditions of the game prior to the breakaway. Who's ahead? By what margin? How much time is remaining? What are the field conditions? Who has the momentum? How skilled is the attacker with the ball?
It's simply a foot race if the goalkeeper is able to go out and save the loose ball before the attacker can shoot it. This sometimes happens when the lead pass to the first attacker is too strong or too deep. It may also happen when the attacker's last touch on the ball is too strong.
The save that is made during the shot is the smother save. This is where the keeper smothers the ball at the shooter's feet before the shooter can get off the shot. This requires special technique and ongoing practice.
The final type of save is fairly conventional, although it too will require skill and practice. Knowing which way to dive and reloading quickly are the keys to success here. Let's consider some of the problems that occur when saving the breakaway. Goalkeepers sometimes tend to be over anxious and too aggressive. Good field players will be looking for visual clues from the goalkeeper. If the keeper comes sprinting out toward them at top speed, the attacker can just tap the ball wide before the keeper can move laterally. The goalkeeper must look at the visual cues that the opponent is providing and mirror their method of attack. If the attacker is coming at speed then the goalkeeper should respond at speed. If the opponent is attacking with patience, then the goalie must respond with a patient defense.
When the goalkeeper is patient they will often find that the ball finds them! In order for the goal to be scored the attacker must go to goal. This creates an advantage for the keeper. We know where the attacker is going. If the keeper remains patient and provides no visual cues to the attacker, then the attacker must quickly decide what to do while under tremendous pressure to get rid of the ball. When the field player sees no openings and has no visual cues, they often end up giving the ball to the goalkeeper because their time runs out before they can make a good decision.
For a goalkeeper to be successful on breakaways it isn't enough just to be aggressive. They must master the concepts of angle play and correct positioning. Obviously this requires practice. The coach must effectively prepare the goalkeeper for the breakaway save situation. The coach should advise the keeper ahead of time when a practice will concentrate on breakaways so that the keeper can be sure to wear the proper protective clothing and padding.
When teaching breakaways, as with most skills, it is important that a logical progression in intensity be followed. The first phase should contain no pressure. The second phase should contain some, but not all, of the elements of the competition match related. The final phase should be as close to the game as is possible in a practice that focuses on a particular soccer skill match conditions.
Afterthoughts: Eyes can tell lies, but the ball never lies. The goalkeeper's primary focus should always be on the ball.