In the Counterparts series, Mouhamad Rachini takes a look at some soccer goalkeepers and hockey goaltenders that share similar styles of play, career paths, or goaltending attributes.
Ice hockey and soccer nets are pretty big for their sports. It’s not rocket science. In the National Hockey League, the world’s premier ice hockey club competition, a goaltender must guard a goal measuring 120 cm tall and 180 cm wide. In professional soccer, a goalkeeper has to stop shot from entering a net measuring 244 cm tall by 732 cm wide.
Both goals are pretty big, and if a goalie is not careful, they will be caught out of position by a quick pass or a swift attempt. That’s why, when it comes to scouting the perfect goalie, agility is always a major thing that’s looked out for. The importance for a goalie to move quickly and easily across their goal cannot be understated, since moving slowly or clunkily could result in a goal conceded on a shot that could’ve been stopped with quicker footwork or edgework.
With that said, is it really a surprise to learn that Paris Saint-Germain’s Keylor Navas and Los Angeles Kings Jonathan Quick, two of the top goalies in their sports over the past decade or so, are also two of the most agile.
The 32-year-old Navas and 33-year-old Quick are both renowned for their quickness in net, with their explosiveness and speed often being cited as their strongest attributes. They move across their creases fluidly and naturally, and their athleticism and flexibility has seen them make highlight-reel stops over the past number of seasons, from Superman-style diving stops to Twister-level split saves.
The key to their agility is their footwork. In Navas’ case, he is constantly in motion. The Costa Rican never stays set in one particular position or stance for too long, but is constantly moving his feet depending on where the ball is. Sometimes, he does this using crossover steps, which help him cover as much ground in as little time as possible. Other times, Navas does this through short but quick foot adjustments or hops.
For Quick, his footwork is more expressive. He uses big, explosive push-offs to slide across his goal quickly, which is great for his agile lateral movements. He also seems to prefer sliding on his pads as opposed to using skate blades when it comes to adjusting his positioning as the puck is being passed between different opponents, especially when the play is happening near his goal.
The above save is also an example of another attribute the two goalies share; their ability to make unorthodox stops. Because of their agility and athleticism, both Navas and Quick are capable of making great saves through unnatural means on a consistent basis. Quick, who will often stretch into the splits, is known for his flexibility, and Navas, thanks largely to his energetic footwork, can contort his body in ways that produce awkward but effective stops.
Here are other examples of Quick and Navas using their agility to produce a big save.
Could Navas and Quick’s shared athleticism come down to their height? Possibly. Although short goalies have a disadvantage when it comes to how much of the net they cover vertically, that lack of height gives them a boost in speed and quickness. They are able to move laterally at a slightly faster pace because it takes less time to move their smaller frame than it takes a taller goalie to move theirs.
In hockey, it takes slightly more time for a tall goaltender to drop onto their knees or into the butterfly stance. It also takes them more time to move post-to-post, and their lateral movement often opens bigger holes along the ice and under their arms.
In soccer, a shorter goalkeeper’s height forces them to put more power behind their jumps and dives than their taller counterparts. This means that they generally have to have stronger legs in order to jump higher and push themselves off quicker and more explosively.
Given than Navas and Quick stand at exactly 1.85 metres tall (6 ft. 1) each, they’re both considered short for their positions, and that might’ve played a part in how much agility-focused and athletic training they had to do.
Not all of the similarities are positive, though. Positioning is considered to be a weakness for both Navas and Quick; it’s not uncommon to find either goalie a step or two away from where they should be. Although their agility means they can usually get away with poor positioning, they’ll be made to pay every so often.
Take this goal Navas conceded to Napoli in 2017. He was too far off of his line, which meant he didn’t have enough time to react to Lorenzo Insigne’s shot or the ball’s bounce. He was also positioned too far to his right, so Navas couldn’t cover enough ground to stop the shot. Had Navas been positioned a little deeper and more centrally, he more than likely would’ve stopped this attempt.
Both Navas and Quick are also hyperaggressive goalies. They love to play off of their lines, even in situations that call for more reserved positioning. Quick and Navas are also very territorial; when a player in possession closes in on their goal, the two goalies will challenge the players by approaching them quickly and cutting down the angle as aggressively as possible.
An example of Quick’s hyper-aggressiveness can be seen in this clip. As Toronto Maple Leafs forward Andreas Johnsson controls the puck, Quick begins inching away from his goal, to the point where he’s almost completely outside of his crease, giving Toronto’s John Tavares, who received the pass from Johnsson, an open goal to shoot at. It ultimately didn’t cost Quick in this scenario, but it has in multiple similar situations before.
They may play two different sports, but it’s clear from their style of goaltending that Navas and Quick put more emphasis on agility and swift footwork/edgework over some of their other goalie-specific qualities.