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Brennan Klein: The Art of Goalkeeping

Goalies are... weird. They usually wear the number one and volunteer to be the team’s last defense as the one throwing their body across the gaping face of the goal to stop a shot from going in. 

If the team wins, no one remembers the keeper, if the team loses, everyone remembers the one shot that should have been saved. 

It’s a lonely, thankless task that most (normal) people don’t sign up for. Soccer philosopher Eduardo Galeano describes the goalie as “alone, condemned to watch the match from afar.” It’s a description that holds true, unless you are Boston College goalkeeper Brennan Klein. Then, you’re at midfield, making a play on the ball and flipping the script on its head.

If you had to pick a position for Klein, you would probably guess he’s a goalie based on his height and the way he takes up space, making himself at home in a history office cubicle, at a table in Addie’s, or between the posts on Newton soccer field. But you would not be wrong to cast the goalkeeper as a forward, especially if you witnessed him take a shot on goal during halftime, where Klein impressed BC and Providence fans alike with his ability to bend the laws of physics during one of the games where he was still recovering and therefore couldn’t play. Versatile, getting the crowd going, sneaky—these are the hallmarks of Klein as a goalie, both following the traditional mythology and adding his own flair.

BC’s keeper knows the mythology surrounding being a goalie, but Klein doesn’t particularly care about it. “There’s a joke that keepers are crazy, I guess we kinda pride ourselves in [that],” Klein admits, talking about his fellow BC goalies. Keepers are part of the team, but have their own training and do different things than the rest of the team during practice. 

Klein doesn’t mind repping the keeper label but prefers to define himself as “a soccer player who plays in goal. I wouldn’t say I’m just a keeper. At the end of the day, I’m a soccer player and I just want to play soccer.”

Klein is willing to do a lot in order to play soccer, including trying out as a field player in high school when he knew that he wouldn’t be the starting varsity high school goalie. “I’d rather play on the field,” Klein declared. That experience means, should the Eagles need a goal late in the game, the No. 1 shirt will be in the opposing team’s box, looking to score that necessary tying goal. He’s also available to take a penalty, should BC find themselves tied at the end of an ACC or NCAA tournament game.

Klein also argues that being comfortable in the dual roles of a field player and a goalkeeper has helped him understand tactics, adding another layer to his game and helping him read the field.

After missing the first game of the season due to recovering from an injury sustained last season, Klein has found himself thrust back into the starter’s role, the last line of defense for an Eagles team looking to bounce back after last season. 

He’s also an important part of the tactics: the strength of his field play allows the keeper to serve as a second center back, allowing the back three to stabilize instead of having to cover extra ground by running left to right all the time. Beyond technical skills, Klein brings passion to the box, noticeable in his directing passes, aggressively celebrating his defensemen for their slide tackles.

Just like last year when Klein cracked the lineup, his teammates have noticed a difference in the back, and it is one that they appreciate. 

“He adds incredible technical ability to build out from the back and personality. Wild courage and fearlessness,” Amos Shapiro-Thompson commented, "...and love for the game. He really loves the game, he feels the game.” The second half of the quote is perhaps the most important part of understanding who Klein is and what this season means to him.

Klein doesn’t want to step outside of the soccer label, just like he doesn’t want to be known as just a goalie. A soccer player is the loud part for Klein, while being a goalie is just a part of that identity. When the first day of school rolls around and those awkward introductions occur, Klein says he knows what he’s going to say because playing soccer is all he wants to do. When those reflections roll around, Klein “hates to say it, but sometimes, I don’t know what I do, I just play soccer. When I’m at home, what do I do for fun? I just play soccer with my friends—that’s literally all I do.” With conviction, Klein declared, “I’m a soccer player, I’d never say I’m anything but a soccer player.” 

This means, beyond “maybe video games,” the keeper eats, sleeps, and breathes soccer—though he doesn’t watch other college teams. He watches Barcelona—that’s his team—but Messi is his favorite player, which means watching Paris Saint-Germain. When the World Cup rolls around, he’ll watch the USA but also Argentina and Germany. Messi “is the reason I love soccer,” Klein declared, “He’s so good, so simple. Honestly? The only reason I got really good with my left foot is because I want to play like Messi.”

Playing like Messi involves playing with joy, which Klein tries to do—a job made harder by the start and stop nature of his career, where two of his seasons have been interrupted by injury. This season's focus, like the others, is on saves and shutouts, which are the numbers that carry so much weight for a goalkeeper. But beyond the numbers (and Klein says he is not a numbers guy, but focuses on the emotions), the goal for this year is to “talk more, and mature as a goalkeeper.” He’s quick to emphasize that “at the end of the day, I care about the group’s happiness—we just need to win.”

This season is different, for many reasons, the big one being that Klein knew he would be starting the moment he was cleared, instead of becoming a midseason starter. But that role comes with its own set of challenges, including a limited window of practice before being thrown into a game situation—which is almost impossible to replicate in practice. He pointed out that he has only been cleared for three weeks. “I’ve been thrown in,” he admits, “that comes with being rusty and getting back in the game.” As the reps build up and with more games under his belt, Klein looks to quickly return to form. 

He admits that it’s been hard to play while still being rusty. “I could play soccer for a long time, but I couldn’t play goalkeeper,” Klein explained, as if he could feel every moment he had missed playing due to his injury. The focus is “trying to get back into it,” knowing that “I’m definitely not where I should be right now.” The rust is everywhere, from confidence levels to making saves to feeling comfortable with the speed of play, but Klein has been working steadily to rebuild his form, knowing better than anyone else what he’s capable of.

Klein knows the injuries have given him something to prove, especially with the dreams of playing pro he carries with him. “I never aspired to be a college athlete, I always want to be a pro,” Klein reflects, focusing on the future. He knows the injuries have “stunted” his growth as a goalie. “I’m maturing, but physically I don’t think necessarily I’m exactly where I need to be right now,” he notes, before adding that he knows to play professionally is something that he’ll have to prove again, after finishing college.

Being back near the start of the season does make the pressure different, with Klein arguing that the pressure is less. Knowing he has the whole season in front of him and that “coach trusts me” makes a difference in lowering the pressure. But the pressure “between the guys” reflects the belief that they’re a good team this year and no one wants to repeat “whatever happened last year.” Eventually, Klein asserts that most of the pressure comes from internal sources and the standards and expectations set by the team for both the group and the individual expectations they set for themselves.   

For a player whose position requires nerves of steel, Klein is quick to point out that he’s always nervous. The worst part is half time, where the keeper describes the feeling of after surviving one half, there’s “a whole other one.” The keeper theorizes that maybe being nervous helps him to prepare the same way for every game, with no one team making him more nervous than the others. “I’m definitely still just as nervous for UMass as I will be for Clemson,” Klein promised.

Perhaps, also, the nerves are another way that Klein’s passion for the game shines through—there’s the saying that if you didn’t care about something, you wouldn’t be nervous. It is evident in both the nonchalant way that Klein approaches interviews and in how quickly he shifts to talking about tactics that the keeper cares immensely for his game, his team, and soccer in general. Not playing is a painful experience, and even playing while rusty hurts because Klein knows exactly what he’s capable of and wants to achieve that, not just for himself, but for his teammates who rely on him to make the extra play in the back or provide an outlet to relieve pressure. 

It’s a good thing that Newton’s field is turf, because “where the goalie walks, the grass doesn’t grow,” according to Galeano; Klein covers the field from the box to the midfield, driven by the love of the game, a desire to be involved, and the willingness to help his teammates out.   

Thank you, Brennan, for sharing your time and passion for soccer, and for being willing to be interviewed!