They're Nuts Over Their Job : Socker Goalies Agree a Little Craziness Helps Them Survive

Ask a Major Indoor Soccer League goalie why he's in his profession. Listen for the word crazy .

Don't be surprised. You have to be a little off your trolley to do what these guys do.

Picture the origin. Somebody slapping the guy next to him on the back and saying: "Hey, I've got an idea. Let's go find a few people who can kick hard leather balls at our faces at about 75 miles an hour."

Take the group the Sockers have shuttled in and out this year.

Start with Otto Orf II, the new backup. Otto Orf II? Enough said.

Orf: "I guess the craziness grows on you the more you get hit in the head."

Felipe Hernandez, reserve: "We're a little psycho. A lot of people think I'm crazy. All my friends think I'm crazy. My parents think I'm crazy."

Zoltan Toth, injured starter: "You have to be nuts. When I first saw indoor soccer, I thought it was a kamikaze sport."

Sure. He has been playing for eight seasons.

After nearly a half season of searching, Socker Coach Ron Newman found a backup goalie in Orf, who comes from Elma, N.Y., owns a hermit crab and lists his favorite actress as Roger Rabbit's wife.

Fits the image, no?

Orf has played the past three years for the Ft. Wayne Flames of the American Indoor Soccer Assn., and has the sore knees and elbows to prove it. He dives, slides and aches.

In contrast, starter Victor Nogueira has more style, which prevents wear and tear on the body. So while Orf survives on athletic ability, Nogueira, perhaps a lesser athlete, rides through games with knowledge gained through years of study.

Orf learns by watching Nogueira. Hand placement. Proper diving techniques. Footwork. Just about everything, including how to relax. Orf was doing a good job fraying his nerves the day before his first MISL start at Wichita in April, and Nogueira told him to just go out and enjoy the game and not worry about mistakes.

"It's not bad having the No. 1 goalie in the league as your teacher," Orf said.

"(Orf) didn't grow up with the sport in his youth," Newman said. "He doesn't have the instinct that Zoltan and Victor have."

Orf's soccer beginnings were humble, even embarrassing. He was a sophomore in high school and decided to try out for the team. Since nobody else seemed particularly interested in playing goalie, Orf decided that was his chance.

The coach told him to just stop the ball, roll it as far as he could and pick it up and throw it to a teammate. The first ball Orf caught, he rolled out of the penalty box and halfway down the field. Stop practice.

"Everybody was laughing," Orf said.

The coach gave him a book on goal-keeping, and from then on, things were hunky-dory. Orf was chosen the team's most improved player. Twice. At the awards banquet the second year, the coach told everybody that Orf was so bad when he started, he had to be given the award again. The next year, Orf was MVP.

Orf's first soccer job was with the Buffalo Storm of the United States Soccer League. He made $50 a week. He didn't mind. Two years earlier, at age 18, he had been hanging around the arena getting autographs from players who were now his teammates.

After a year with the Columbus Capitols of the AISA, Orf arrived in Fort Wayne. This is what he says: "We were just terrible. We had all American-born players."

Now he's in the big leagues with a 1-1 record and a respectable 3.66 goals-against average. The team has finally stopped kidding him about his name to boot.

Nogueira is probably the sanest of the bunch. Of course, Jack Nicholson was the sanest of the "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" gang too.

Yet Newman describes Nogueira as the Perry Como of goalkeepers for his relaxed, easy-going style. Nogueira isn't easily rattled or flustered.

Good thing. Nogueira tore an Achilles tendon last season, an injury Socker Trainer Bill Taylor said can be career ending. He came back before he was 100% healthy.

"I was half ready, but I acted ready," Nogueira said. "I couldn't even jump off my left foot."

Throw in a bicycle accident. During his rehabilitation, Nogueira decided he was tired of exercising on a stationary bike, staring at the training room wall. He started riding outside and was run off the road by a car. He had to get 15 stitches in his head.

After all that, Nogueira stepped into the full-time, every-time starting position when Toth was sidelined with bunions. He proceeded to set the MISL record for the lowest GAA (2.86) in regular season play. During one stretch, he started 23 of 24 games.

"Victor has done a phenomenal job," Taylor said. "I think he's exceeded everyone's expectations."

Adds Newman: "He's what you call a natural goal-keeper."

Zoltan Toth, "Zollie the Goalie" to his teammates, is expected to return by the beginning of next season and continue doing away with evil spirits.

He has a ritual of touching all sides of the goal before each game to send the spirits packing and ensure some success.

Toth had a friendly rivalry with Socker forward Steve Zungul when Zungul played for Tacoma. As the story goes, Zungul used to stand at the midfield line and hold his hands out like a sorcerer, putting the hex on Toth.

Zungul once had framed a picture of himself scoring a goal against Toth, signed it and sent it to Toth's son, Zachary.

Toth, who had the best season of his indoor career last year with a 2.94 GAA, had seen many a doctor in an attempt to relieve the pain in his feet. These aren't ordinary feet, either, Newman said.

"His feet are ever so wide," Newman said. "I'm surprised he can't walk on water."

In his own defense, Toth says: "I never had legs like Brigitte Bardot."

The backups.

First, Newman tried Felipe Hernandez, a former standout at San Diego State.

Hernandez showed up at the San Diego Sports Arena one day to catch the ride to Los Angeles for a game with the Lazers. He noticed a jersey was being made for him but didn't think too much of it.

But on the ride up, the players started telling him he might have to play. Nogueira was with his wife, Pamela, who was giving birth to their second child.

Next thing Hernandez knew, he was suited up and warming up.

"When I first got out there, I was nervous," he said. "If I would have gone through the first quarter with no goals, I would have been OK."

That didn't happen. The Lazers scored on their first three shots. Things didn't get much better the rest of the way, and the Sockers lost, 10-9.

Still, for Hernandez, who plans to try out with Kansas City or LA next year, it was a learning experience. He'll never forget Zungul reassuring him on the bench saying, "Hey, it's not over yet."

Next in line was Tim Harris. Harris' story is short. He was in the middle of finals at UCLA and never even suited up.

School was his first priority, and Newman doesn't blame him.

"Certainly," Newman said, "the way the game is in this country, you have to have your priorities right."

Finally, a look at the one-game goal keeping career of defender Ralf Wilhelms.

The Sockers were playing host to Wichita. Newman decided to go with just one goalie so he could suit up an extra defender. Toth was kicked in the head during the game and was unable to continue. Newman was in a jam.

Wilhelms got the nod and did just fine, helping the Sockers to a 4-2 victory while allowing just one goal.

The last time Wilhelms played goalie was when he was 13, in West Germany. How did he get selected?

Midfielder Brian Quinn's assessment: "It's only people who don't play with a full deck who play in goal anyway, so we had a lot of volunteers. Ralf's probably the sanest of the bunch, so we let him go in."

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