Sunday, August 28, 2011 | 8:24 p.m. CDT;
updated 8:31 p.m. CDT, Sunday, August 28, 2011
COLUMBIA — Matt McKenna stands in the goalie box, surveying the field.
He screams orders to his teammates at an urgent pace, directing, encouraging and planning strategy with them at each and every opportunity.
He’s alert. He’s focused. He’s prepared ... but he’s nervous.
“Yeah (I was nervous). I didn’t play much last year,” McKenna said with a look of relief on his face. “Coming in as the starter this year, it’s nerve-racking.”
McKenna and the Columbia College men's soccer team started off its season with a 5-0 shutout against visiting Robert Morris on Sunday. It was McKenna’s first game as the starting goalkeeper. He recorded four saves in the shutout, shaking off pregame jitters throughout the match.
“I just don’t think he’s completely settled in yet. It’s the first game of the year,” Cougars coach John Klein said. “He got the shutout, but I think it could be even cleaner, even stronger. I think he could take more command out there and be more of a talker, but overall we got what we wanted. He kept the ball out of the net.”
McKenna starts off the season trying to replace Ken Searles, who graduated last year. Searles, one of the best goalkeepers the Cougars have had, now serves as McKenna’s mentor and goalie trainer.
“It’s awesome,” McKenna said. “He helped me out a lot last season (when Searles was starting), so it’s good to have him back. Ken was real good, so those are pretty big shoes to fill. Not sure if I’m going to be able to, but I’m going to try.”
The first step is confidence, and Searles agreed that Sunday was certainly a step in the right direction.
“He played pretty well. Today was just building his confidence, getting the feel of the game and getting the experience,” Searles said with a wide grin on his face. “That was the main thing today that he had to do was getting himself into the game and getting confidence.”
Having his teammates score quickly certainly helped. Midfielder Andres Acosta’s goal in the 13th minute gave the Cougars an early 1-0 lead. Senior forward Dylan Barduzzi added goals in the 20th and 56th minutes, and John Hutchison and Trey Bristow also scored for Columbia College.
But Sunday’s game was all about getting McKenna started on the right path because he and the 23rd-ranked Cougars look to return to the NAIA national tournament.
“You’ve got to trust your keeper,” Barduzzi said. “If you have a good keeper you will always be confident. Whenever the other team is attacking us, and you know you have a good keeper, you can be sure that they’re not going to score easily. I’m confident when any team is attacking with Matt in the goal. I trust him a lot.”
Searles said there is every reason to trust McKenna.
“Matt is a good keeper," he said. "The one thing with him was his confidence level, and after this game, having a shutout, he’s going to be fine for the rest of the season.”