Photo by ISIphotos.com
By AVI CREDITOR
Chris Seitz greeted the news with open arms and a smile as wide as the goalposts.
An off-season trade from Real Salt Lake to the Philadelphia Union reunited the promising keeper with two coaches under whom he has flourished.
But more importantly, it gave him something he'd been yearning for since his entry to Major League Soccer in 2007: A chance to play.
"(The trade) was needed and something I've been looking for. It was definitely a happy moment," Seitz said. "Seeing the trust that Philadelphia had to trade for me was reassuring. Everywhere I've been the goalkeeper, it hasn't been my time. Hopefully now it is. I'm looking forward for my chance."
In Utah, Seitz was reduced to the role of understudy as Nick Rimando strung together highlight-reel performances in goal to lead Real Salt Lake to last season's improbable MLS Cup.
For Seitz, who has yet to make his mark in three seasons in Major League Soccer but is still widely considered as a potential U.S. men's national team goalkeeper, the championship run was bittersweet.
"I can definitely take some good moments out of (my time in Salt Lake)," Seitz said. "I had a good relationship with Nick and definitely learned from him. I improved a lot, but at the same time I wasn't excited about not getting too many games."
Philadelphia coach Peter Nowak pounced on the chance to add an eager Seitz to his growing roster, acquiring him from RSL for allocation money after the expansion draft.
Nowak previously coached Seitz with the U.S. U-23 team that qualified for and played in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
"From a pure goalkeeper perspective, this is the future of U.S. Soccer and our team," Nowak said. "We're going to give him everything we can…but it's up to him. Right now everything is going in the right direction."
Seitz posted a 2-0-1 record and a 0.33 goals-against average in CONCACAF Olympic qualifying before taking a back seat to Brad Guzan in Beijing.
"It's very nice to get back with Coach Nowak," Seitz said. "It means a lot to me that he made the move to bring me here. It was a bold move, and I realize that. I'm honored, and I'm looking forward to playing under him again. I played some of my best ball beneath him."
Nowak isn't the only Union coach with previous ties to Seitz, though. Assistant/goalkeepers coach Rob Vartughian was an assistant at the University of Maryland during Seitz' two years as a Terrapin (2005-2006).
Seitz was outstanding on the college level, becoming the first freshman keeper since Brad Friedel (UCLA, 1990) to win an NCAA national championship.
He posted a 28-5-3 record and a 0.77 GAA with 16 clean sheets in two seasons at Maryland, and he saved an Andrew Boyens penalty kick in the 2005 national championship game to preserve a 1-0 victory over New Mexico.
"When I had him the first time he was 17-18 years old. Obviously he's not a kid anymore," Vartughian said. "The game is different than it is in college, and he's adjusted to that well. Getting a chance to work with him again is great."
Seitz, who will be 23 when the Union's inaugural season kicks off in Seattle, isn't alone in the quest for the team's starting keeper spot. The team selected 24-year-old Brad Knighton – Matt Reis' backup in New England – in the expansion draft, and it added 20-year-old UCLA netminder Brian Perk in the fourth round of January's MLS SuperDraft.
"We're obviously all very young and looking to make a name for ourselves," Seitz said. "By having three young goalkeepers it pushes us all to be better. It's going to be a battle for the rest of the preseason."
Nowak hasn't settled on a starter this early in the preseason, though it would appear that Seitz is the front-runner for the job.
Aside from his youth-national-team pedigree, collegiate achievements and previous links to the coaching staff, Seitz has all the physical and intangible tools of a top-notch keeper. At 6-foot-3, 236 pounds, he presents an imposing force between the pipes. He is agile in diving to either side, he has remarkable instincts and his vocal leadership and heart have never been in question.
It's just a matter of getting regular playing time on the club level before his full potential can be realized.
"For him, right now he needs games and those experiences," Vartughian said. "There's only so much you can replicate in training."
Seitz has visions of someday becoming the United States' No. 1 keeper. He texts with friend and current No. 1 Tim Howard regularly, and he has grown up studying and replicating the moves of American greats Howard, Friedel and Kasey Keller. He has paid his dues as a backup, behind Rimando in Salt Lake and behind Guzan at the Olympics.
2010 is his time to shine.
"I've always wanted to start off here and use MLS as a stepping stone, and now's my time to start playing in MLS," Seitz said. "I want to make the biggest contribution to this team that I can, and hopefully that means starting and guiding the back line. It's something I want to push for, to claim the No. 1 job. It'd be nice to get a season under my belt."