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Littman Is Making His Share of Saves : Soccer: Salsa goalie has learned how to handle his role and is second in the league with a 0.7 goals-against average despite sharing job.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Salsa goalkeeper Mike Littman dived quickly to his left, stretched toward the goal post and hoped for the best. Nice effort, but no luck.

Littman, in his second season with the organization, allowed a goal early in the first half against Vancouver on Aug. 21. Quick scores can rattle the best goalkeepers, let alone a journeyman battling for a job.

Although disappointed, Littman kept his cool--and got tough.

He didn’t let another ball into the net, stopping four hard 86er shots and helping the Salsa win, 2-1. The performance reminded Littman how far he’s come.

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“Last year, I might have been down after I gave up a goal,” Littman said. “I would have worried about making mistakes in the rest of the game. But I’m a lot stronger now mentally. I believe I can still win now.”

And so does the Salsa.

A member of the Salsa’s reserve team a season ago, Littman is one of two goalkeepers on the big club. Littman’s strong performance in net has contributed to two consecutive victories and a major boost in his confidence. He hopes to continue his sound play at 7:35 p.m. tonight when the Salsa plays at Vancouver.

“You can never play as well as you possibly can, there’s always room for improvement, but I think I’m playing pretty solid right now,” Littman said. “I’ve waited for my chance, and now that I have it I’m performing well.”

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How well?

Consider: Littman is among the statistical leaders at his position despite having played the second-fewest minutes of all goalkeepers with at least 300 minutes, the minimum number needed to qualify for consideration by the league.

“He has very good desire,” Salsa goalkeeper coach Zaky Abdel said. “He has learned (a lot) and he will keep improving.”

Littman is 4-1 with two shutouts for the Salsa (6-5-1), who are in third place in the American Professional Soccer League. He allows an average of less than one goal (0.7), second-best in the league. In 472 minutes, Littman has given up four goals and has 23 saves.

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“My whole team is giving me a lot of help,” Littman said. “All the guys are making it real easy for me to make saves.”

That’s nice, but Littman has had a hand in things, too.

The Salsa had lost three of its previous four games before Littman provided a spark last week with a 3-0 shutout of league champion Colorado (Aug. 13) and the victory over Vancouver. Several players said the team is currently playing its best soccer this season.

“Things are starting to come together,” Littman said. “Everyone is starting to get into a positive frame of mind and the guys are feeling more confident.”

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Littman knows the benefit of mental fortitude. A graduate of Cal State Northridge, Littman (6 feet 1, 195 pounds) became a professional in 1987. He has played for several teams, but had not stood out at any stop.

As a member of the Cobras, the Salsa’s reserve squad, last season, Littman learned a lot about patience. He watched as the Salsa celebrated during a playoff run that ended against Colorado in the title game with a 3-1 overtime loss.

Looking on from the inside was particularly frustrating, especially since Littman believed he could contribute. But instead of hanging his head, Littman watched the Salsa goalkeepers to try and improve his own game.

“I learned a lot being a backup,” Littman said. “I got a better understanding of the game and things to do in certain situations. Last season has paid off for this season.”

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Impressed with Littman’s approach, Salsa brass gave him the opportunity to win one of two goalkeeper roster spots for 1994. Littman did the rest.

He shares the position with Bob Ammann, who also shared the position in 1993. Like most athletes, Littman would prefer being the starter every game. Considering the position he was in last season, however, Littman can deal with the present situation.

“I’ve got a job to do,” he said, “and I’m going to do it as well as I can whenever I’m called on.”


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