Ian Feuer, who earns his paychecks by keeping goal for the Salsa, vividly remembers his first championship game.
It was three years ago, and he was playing for Club Brugge in Belgium. He was a third-team goalkeeper then, so he remembers the atmosphere surrounding the game rather than any action.
“It was pretty exciting,” he said, smiling. “The whole city was jumping in water fountains.”
Although he doesn’t envision people in Fullerton leaping into water fountains this weekend, the Salsa’s American Professional Soccer League championship game Saturday against Colorado at Cal State Fullerton will be nice for Feuer nonetheless.
It will be his second championship game, and the first time in which he has played a major role in getting his team there.
“I’ve always been on teams that have been a step short,” Feuer said. “I’ve been on teams that would make it to the semifinals and then lose. Or make it to the quarters and lose.
“It’s my turn to win something.”
Feuer has stayed after practice this week for extra work. He has kept videotapes of the Salsa’s games with Colorado close to his VCR in hopes of finding an extra clue to solve the Foxes.
“I hope the other boys are doing the same,” he said.
It has been a remarkable “homecoming” season for Feuer, who on Wednesday was named the APSL Rookie of the Year by Soccer Digest. After playing in Belgium for the last five seasons, Feuer, 6 feet 6, led APSL goalkeepers in goals-against average most of this summer before finishing second.
Injuries had about as much success as Salsa opponents against Feuer. He underwent knee surgery in August and the Salsa was 1-6 in his absence. He returned in time to guide the Salsa to a 3-2 shootout victory over Vancouver in the semifinals.
Didn’t take too long to get comfortable after coming back from surgery, eh?
“It actually did because I didn’t get too much work,” Feuer said. “The defense played great. It was 20 minutes before I even touched my first ball. It’s tough when that happens.”
Regardless, Feuer looked like he hadn’t missed any time, which didn’t surprise his coach.
“At this moment, he is the best goalie in the U.S.,” Salsa Coach Rildo Menezes said. “He’s tall, but he’s very quick on low balls.
“He’s fantastic. Everybody looks for big goalies like him but usually they’re not as good on low balls. They can’t get down.”
Feuer can. He can also go up and go sideways. Although only 22, Feuer has more experience than some players 10 years older.
Born in Las Vegas, Feuer went to Belgium to play when he was 16. His Las Vegas club team had traveled to Belgium and, while there, Feuer made some connections. He wanted to play in Belgium, so he entered a trade school for printing there.
“That first year in Europe I lived in a room two yards by three yards with a bed, a sink and my clothes, driving my bike through the rain,” Feuer said.
That wasn’t the worst of his experiences, though. After sitting on Brugge’s bench for four years, the team loaned him to Molenbeek, another team in Brussels. He played there for a year and did well, but when Molenbeek wanted to purchase his contract, Brugge wouldn’t allow it.
“And then Brugge wouldn’t let me play,” Feuer said. “The only thing I can figure out is that they wanted to put me under the rug so they could cover their mistake.”
Brugge finally relented last January, though, and gave the Salsa permission to sign Feuer. Although Feuer said he has enjoyed the season, soccer in the United States isn’t exactly equal to the sport in other countries.
“It would be like playing in the NBA here, that’s how big it is (in Belgium),” Feuer said. “But (the Salsa) is a great team, and the organization is good. You can’t ask for more.”
Maybe, Feuer said, he will return to Europe one day. But for now, his attention is on two things: Winning a championship Saturday and then making the U.S. national team so he can play in the World Cup.
“I feel I deserve it,” Feuer said. “Not to be big-headed, but I feel I’ve gone through enough in Europe. I’ve proved myself here and I’ve proved myself in Europe. I don’t know if I have to prove myself in Africa and Asia, too.”
He laughed. That’s easy to do during championship weeks.