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Galaxy goalkeeper coach Matt Reis passes his wisdom along

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Over 16 seasons and the 315 games he played in Major League Soccer, Matt Reis' objective was always the same. Block the shot, protect his goal.

A four-time All-Star with the New England Revolution, Reis set every goalkeeping record in the club's history and established himself as one of the top keepers in the league.

Last year, after tearing his left quadriceps in the playoffs, Reis called it a career and retired at 38.

In his tearful retirement speech, Reis likened himself during his early days in MLS to a soccer pioneer. "I like to say that back in the day, we were in covered wagons going across the country setting up soccer in the United States," he said. "It's come a long way and I'm proud to be part of that."

He wanted to stay in the game and Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena reached out and asked Reis to join his staff as goalkeeper coach.

"You don't have it on your shoulders whether to make that save or make those decisions," Reis said about becoming a coach. "You have to impart your knowledge on the guys and hope they make the right decisions."

His ability to pass on that knowledge will be a key to Reis' success.

The Galaxy has three goalies: veteran Jaime Penedo, the starting keeper who joined the team in August, and two younger backups, former UCLA teammates Brian Perk and Brian Rowe. Reis has more appearances just in playoff games (23) than his pupils have in their entire MLS careers.

"Having played so many years in the MLS gives him this knowledge of the league," Penedo said. "He knows how it works, knows the little idiosyncrasies of players; he just knows so much."

During a recent practice, the energetic Reis still looks like a player. He walks onto the field and spends much of the session showing his goalkeepers where they should be positioned and how their feet should be set before making a save.

But when he talks to Penedo, Reis often uses gestures.

The Panamanian national goalkeeper, who has spent most of his 14-year career playing in Central America, speaks little English. Reis, who grew up in Southern California, speaks some Spanish, but sometimes their words are lost in translation and complicate the teaching process.

"I know more English than he knows Spanish," Penedo jokes in Spanish. "But since goalkeeping is a subject we both understand very well, we generally understand each other."

Penedo's development is crucial for the Galaxy. He was signed in the second half of 2013 after Carlo Cudicini, the team's starter, struggled in goal. Penedo started nine regular season-games, giving up only seven goals, cementing his status as the team's top goalie.

But the 32-year-old Penedo is still getting used to MLS play, which he says is faster and more physical than in other places he has played. Reis is helping Penedo make the necessary adjustments.

Reis noticed that Penedo typically stood upright, leaning back on his heels, before a shot arrived. Reis advised Penedo to bend his knees and lean forward on his toes, so he can move more quickly to attack the ball and push it out of the goal.

Reis, who is 6 feet 1, is the same height or slightly taller than his goalies. The goal is 24 feet wide, and taller goalies have a better chance to cover distance on a single dive than shorter keepers, who must be quicker on their feet to make the same save.

So in training camp, Reis is trying to improve his goalkeepers' lateral movement. This is a particular challenge for Penedo.

In Central America, Penedo explained, the goalkeeping style is to rely on strength and to just dive for the ball.

But under Reis' coaching, Penedo is using chopping steps to first move sideways, before he dives, to cover more ground.

"Sometimes I'll think I made a great save during practice, but he'll come over and say, 'You needed to set your feet this way instead,' and that's what's really making a difference," Penedo said.

For his two younger goalies, Perk and Rowe, who are still in their first years in the league, the new coach is something of a role model.

Like them, Reis attended UCLA, with which he won a national championship in 1997. And also like them, Reis spent the first years of his career as a backup with the Galaxy.

"He's gone through everything we've gone through, so it's great to look up to him and pick his brain a little bit on how he's made it so long in the league," said Rowe, 25, who is the third-string goalkeeper and is once again competing with Perk, 24, for a higher spot on the roster.

As a player in New England, Reis had a reputation as a practical joker.

One April Fools' Day, the bald Reis put on a long-haired wig and dressed himself up as Luis "El Fangoso" Lobo, pretending to be the Revolution's latest foreign-player signing, to the delight and confusion of fans.

Reis still has one of the loudest voices on the practice field, and can often be heard mock-jeering players and other coaches during impromptu games after practice. But when it comes to training his goalies, it's business.

"I can't just sit there and play all the jokes," Reis said, who hopes to be a head coach one day. "It's all good and fun, but then if we're losing games and our goalies are terrible then that looks poorly on me."

So Reis keeps the jokes to a minimum but tries to keep it light enough afterward to have a good rapport with his players.

"To me, it's like he's another one of us goalies," Penedo said.

james.barragan@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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