A Student of the Game
The start of Boris Pardo's indoor soccer career did not go smoothly.
While trying to learn the intricacies of the sport in 2010, the goalkeeper faced plenty of challenges.
It wasn't lost on a pair of Missouri Comets teammates - Nate Hauser and Jeff Davis.
"Those guys nicknamed me sunburn because of the red light constantly going on," Pardo said. "I was getting scored on, left and right.
"It was a funny story. I accepted it."
Pardo became a quick study in the indoor game, though the learning curve was steep.
"It was tough," he said. "You obviously think it's easy because it's half the size of an outdoor field. But you get the boards. You're used to coming out cutting angles as an outdoor goalie. You cut out space, but the more space behind you leaves you open to the back door off the boards. Your distance from the goal line has to change.
"Another one was the close-range shots. You've got to be prepared to take a shot that’s two yards away and not flinch and not make yourself smaller and stay big. Outdoors, your hand position is essential. You're not used to making the kick saves. That was a big adjustment. Indoors you have to adopt to the futsal style."
Today, the 37-year-old Pardo has positioned himself as one of the best goalkeepers in the Major Arena Soccer League, frustrating foes while guarding the net for the reigning champion San Diego Sockers.
It has been an ever-evolving experience for the 6-1, 190-lb. Pardo, a student of the game.
"You've got to buy into it, accept the changes and all the bad habits or habits that you've had and create new ones," he said. “I love to study and watch and rewatch all the games. I still watch outdoors. Just soccer in general. I've always been a soccer rat."
Seton Hall University men’s head coach Manny Schellscheidt called Pardo a soccer rat.
Pardo said that Schellscheidt told him: " You're the type of player that I would call on two hours’ notice to go play a game. You're the type of people I want to surround myself with."
Like many goalkeepers, Pardo began as a field player. His father Luis started a recreation team for inner city kids, in part so his sons could stay out of trouble. When Luis needed a goalkeeper for his travel team, he recruited Boris.
"He wanted me to be a goalkeeper and I was like, I don't know," Pardo said. "But it was tough because I wasn't the slimmest of kids. I had some weight problems. So, it was just an easy thing for me if I wanted to stay with it. I didn't mind because it was not a lot of running. I really enjoyed it. After I got that bug, I wanted more and more. My father started to help me along the way to push me more."
Slowly, but surely, Pardo became a student of the game.
"From a kid's perspective, I saw this one show, Chef's Table, and most of the chefs there are fascinated with cooking because they remember their childhood from a kid's perspective and their view of it," he said. "I love diving around the dirt, the feel of getting dirty. And the hand-eye coordination stuff. Being able to use my hands was fun. It was a big goal, the challenge of trying to stop a goal from going in."
Pardo learned the game in league play and on the streets of Newark, N.J., with his brother Cristian, and his friends. Cristian was four years older than Pardo, so he was the youngest and many times the smallest player on the field and placed in the goal.
He and Cristian used to play against a brick wall on the side of a small grocery store on a five-street intersection. And guess who was the goalkeeper?
"Whenever you took a shot off the brick wall, anywhere in the intersection, you’re chasing it," he said. "I was the young one of neighborhood kids, so I was the goalie. ... It's all concrete. Sidewalk pavement."
When Pardo played on grass or dirt fields, he said "it was easy on the body."
"Gloves are so cool," he added. "Another cool thing you know watching goalkeepers at that time like Jorge Campos [Mexico]. My dad always wanted me to watch [Rene] Higuita the goalie from Colombia. Those guys are doing all these crazy things. That fascinated me. I loved it, the diving, the rolling."
Pardo’s fondest memories growing up? Playing in the middle of the street and pausing when cars came by.
"The only patch of grass was right off the sidewalk, so the kids had the run up on the sidewalk, shoot the ball off that little patch," he said. "The post was a water drain. We broke a couple windows so that guy didn't like us too much, but he grew to like us. We weren't going anywhere."
During the summer, the Pardos visited family in Santiago, Chile. Pardo wound up playing for a school team in a farm town that was an affiliate of Colo Colo, a Chilean First Division team and received an opportunity to tryout with the club’s youth academy.
"I was the biggest kid on the field," Pardo said. "There was a cross, and I caught the ball with one hand, and I threw it right away to the other side."
Coaches were impressed. He was an American with a Chilean passport. They wanted him to stay and develop as a goalkeeper.
Pardo’s mother, however, had the final the word, saying that her son was going to get his education in the states. He could return in the summer, though.
He did, competing with the academy and then with Universidad de Chile academy when his goalkeeper coach switched clubs.
Pardo attended Seton Hall University and was named the 2006 Big East goalkeeper of the year while setting a program record for most career shutouts. He wasn't drafted by a Major League Soccer team, but a twist of fate opened up an opportunity to turn pro. While a backup keeper at Universidad, Peter Vermes, then general manager of the Kansas City Wizards (now Sporting Kansas City), and head coach Curt Onalfo, were in Chile after scouting players in Argentina. Pardo had a New Jersey connection with Vermes, who attended Rutgers University.
He was invited to KC training camp and wound up in the 2007 MLS goalkeeper pool and was called into teams when they needed a backup, including Toronto FC, FC Dallas, and Kansas City and Reserve Division play. The next year, he was KC's No. 2 keeper on its reserve squad.
Pardo signed with the Comets for the 2010-11 Major Indoor Soccer League season, learning a new sport. He did not see much action. After playing with the Wichita B-52s in the 2014-15 MASL campaign, Vlatko Andonovski, the current U.S. women’s national team coach who then had been promoted from assistant to head coach, asked Pardo to re-join the team.
"That guy is so good on the field," Pardo said. "He could still play today in the league and still make some guys look dumb. He is an unbelievable player. He's also an unbelievable student of the game. He teaches guys. He was a player's coach. When he announced that he was going to leave, we were all in tears in the locker room. The only other coach I have much respect and love for was Manny."
Schellscheidt, a member of the National Soccer Hall of Fame and who coached the U.S. men's national team in 1975, is considered to have one of the finest American soccer minds.
"I was very fortunate," Pardo said. "I'm really happy that he saw something in me. I guess I was doing something right. I kept learning from him."
Pardo found his way to the Sockers after playing for the U.S. futsal national team. He was called in for a friendly against Mexico in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and for another match in Sonora, Mexico. That had spurred the Sockers' interest.
Pardo was told: "You're going get like 13 goals scored on you. Don't worry about it. Just keep playing."
"I don't remember the last time I got scored six or seven goals scored on," Pardo thought. "What am I in for?"
He allowed four goals in a 7-5 loss and Pardo eventually signed with San Diego.
The Sockers captured the 2021 MASL championship in a Cinderella playoff run. They finished the regular season at 4-6 before catching fire. San Diego upended the Tacoma Stars, Florida Tropics and Ontario Fury in the postseason to earn the Ron Newman Cup.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the team endured a rough start because it couldn’t play home games due to local Coronavirus protocols.
"We couldn't train in many places," Pardo said. "If we did try somewhere, they shut us down. Park Rangers would come and say, 'Hey, you've got to be masked up or we can't have this many people.' We were very limited in our availability to train.
"We had a short preseason. We had to hit the ground running and learn as we went. We knew we were going have a lot of new faces. The team needed time to play games. We did a lot of our learning during games. It was our commitment to keep improving.
"We made the playoffs. We'll figure it out and we'll be okay. As long as you make the big show, that's all it matters."
San Diego (15-0-1, 42 points), the Western Division leader, hosts the Chihuahua Savage on Sunday.
Pardo said that the team's strengths including the players’ longevity of together, “knowing each other's strengths, weaknesses and tendencies."
He is second to Tropics keeper Hugo Silva in goals-against average (4.30), fourth in save percentage (.724) and is the league leader in wins (12).
He realized he has not been a one-man show in his success, praising defenders who stayed consistent - Mitchell Cardenas, Guerrero Pino, Cesar Cerda, Felipe Gonzalez and Juan Manuel Rojo.
The regular season runs through April 3 before the playoffs, kick off later that week.
"For the most part of the team as has settled in," Pardo said. "We have a good rhythm. We have good momentum, but we are staying grounded.”
Pardo remembered when San Diego lost to Monterrey in the 2018-19 Western Conference final, 4-3. He and his teammates enjoyed a phenomenal season. He was named MASL goalkeeper of the year while posting a 22-1 record and 3.90 GAA.
"It doesn't matter what you did throughout the season," he said. "It matters in the playoffs. We got to keep that mentality and be ready to really perform."
Goalkeepers generally don't hit their prime until they reach their 30s and some even compete into their 40s. On Monday, former Italian national team goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon extended his contract with Parma through 2024. He will be 46 when the contract expires.
Pardo, who turns 38 on March 22, has no plans of hanging up his goalkeeper's gloves.
"As long as my body can, I'm always going to want to play," he said. "I want to help with the younger goalkeepers. I still have some more to give. I think a couple more years, it would be good to see how my body does [and then] I think it's about that time start to pave the way, find some younger goalkeepers and pass the torch."
That's years away. The only thing on Boris Pardo's mind is frustrating the opposition and get his hands on another Ron Newman Cup.
Michael Lewis, the editor of FrontRowSoccer.com, can be followed on Twitter at @SoccerWriter. He can be reached via email at Michael@FrontRowSoccer.com. His book Alive and Kicking: The incredible, but true story of the Rochester Lancers, was published this week. It can be purchased at https://tinyurl.com/2p8rzhpy.