"That's the beauty of this game." Danny Waltman
As the elder statesman of indoor goalkeepers in the Major Arena Soccer League, Danny Waltman has just about seen it all in his 20 years in guarding the goal.
He has won championships in two leagues.
He has played for five teams in three indoor leagues.
And he has made a save or two.
Make that almost 5,000 saves since the 41-year-old native of Gig Harbor, Wash. donned the gloves for the Chicago Storm in the Major Indoor Soccer League way back in the 2004-05 season. He has frustrated foes in the Major Indoor Soccer League, Xtreme Soccer League, and of course, Major Arena Soccer League for the Tacoma Stars the past eight seasons.
Actually, that's 4,820 saves that includes regular season and playoff matches, including 10 in the Stars' 12-3 home win over the Dallas Sidekicks on Friday night.
When told how many saves he has made, Waltman replied, "That's amazing. Honestly, I haven't counted. I really appreciate that there are people out there that do get it is a cool stat, whatever the numbers are."
It was not immediately known whether those saves are a North American indoor record, but they are a testament for Waltman's persistence and longevity. After all, if you can't do the job, you're not going to get called on and Waltman has played in goal for the Storm, Detroit Ignition, Rockford Rampage, Missouri Comets and the Stars.
In the super-paced game of indoor soccer, where momentum can change on a dime, Waltman has realized many times things are hardly set in stone.
"As a goalkeeper, you eat the same thing for breakfast, workout the same way. You show up to the game, and I swear it is one of those nights where it's going in and there are those times where it doesn't matter what this is not going to be your day. Can't explain that."
The secret to being a successful goalkeeper in a sport in which shots are fired at the opening you are proteching at ridiculous speeds and rate? Keeping your focus and your head. A little knowledge also helps.
"Goalies have been around the goal so much they know how goals are scored," Waltman said. "So, it helps you when you're in the moment. That little extra knowledge helps you."
In outdoor soccer, sometimes goalkeepers don't even touch the ball for long stretches of time and sometimes don't have to make a save for an entire 90 minutes. During a furious 60-minute indoor match, keepers know they will be tested, sometimes within a span of seconds, which could be the difference between winning and losing.
"You get to make a lot of saves and you're constantly in the game," Waltman said. "And there's nothing really better than being in the flow of the game. Outdoors, you can really have time to let your mind drift and you're thinking about lots of things. Indoors, you don't have time to think. You're just involved in the game. That's what I really enjoy. You suddenly look up at the clock or you just hear the buzzer and it's like, 'Oh man, where'd that time go?' I am so locked in."
Players have their own unique celebrations when they score, especially outdoors, where putting the ball in the back of the net is a much bigger occasion.
Goalkeepers, however, especially indoor ones, don't have that luxury because the action can be never-ending and fast and furious.
Waltman said that he will celebrate a save, especially a vital or special one.
"Absolutely," he said. "Every save. It's like a video game.
"I save the first one," he said, adding that a keeper "probably will a good night. If the first one goes in it can be a long night."
The 6-foot, 185-lb. Waltman said that he has noticed that Brazilian keepers "really celebrate blocks and saves. It's kind of a cultural thing. I like watching them do it.
"I get pumped up and there's been some saves and some sequences where I like I'm jumping up in the air like fist to fist in the air," he said. "And then get set for the next shot."
And sometimes it's important when teammates have his back. He noted what transpired in the 6-3 win over the Mesquite Outlaws on March 19. "A guy got around me and I'm thinking this is a goal for sure," he said. "And there's three guys on the line just making saves and blocks and I'm like running back watching this sequence happening and watching Alex (Caceres, defender) make the block and I like just jump up in the air and celebrate. I don't think I've ever done that.
It's good to have teammates who have your back definitely.
"Man, so many so many times," Waldman said. "Indoors is such a team defense. You can make all the saves you want. You need guys to make four, five or six big blocks in a game and make key defensive plays and save them off the line. A lot of times goalkeepers get awarded for team defensive performance and it's really what, what's kind of happening with the Stars right now. It's really great to see teams gel and guys die on the field for your teammate, and put everything on the line to stop a shot. That's the beauty of this game. It really takes everything you have. Then you still need that other element of if you want to call it luck. Hit the post and it went out."
Speaking of player of the week honors, it should be noted that Waltman was honored by the league as its top defensive player as he backstopped a pair of wins last week.
Waltman grew up in the Tacoma area watching the original Tacoma Stars in the first incarnation of the MISL. Watching the likes of goalies PJ Johns, Mike Dowler and Chris Vaccaro, Waltman said he "fell in love with the goalkeeping position; with its crazy jerseys."
He took to the position early on in his career. No one "volunteered" the youngster, which has been the path of many a young keeper.
"As a young player, they try to keep you playing all the positions but I just wanted to play goalie," Waltman said. "I think I regretted that later in life when I found out how much I loved playing soccer, playing actual positions, playing forward, trying to score goals. When they talk about the beautiful game, they're talking about one-touch soccer. I don’t necessarily think they're talking about goalkeeping. But I was already too late, too far down the goalkeeping path to play at a high level.
"I love playing soccer in other positions. So, I get my glory. I still play in men's leagues when I can and go play indoor in over Over-30 and Over-40 leagues. I never play goalkeeper in those games. I always play in the field, try to get some touches. I try to try to experience all those years where I missed out.
After playing a year with the Seattle Sounders in the United Soccer League, Waltman embarked on his indoor soccer journey with Chicago in 2004. After three campaigns with the Storm, he competed with Detroit (2006-09) and Rockford (2009-10) before signing with Missouri in 2010. Waltman led the Comets to back-to-back appearances in the MISL semifinals in 2011 and 2012, and he was instrumental in the club reaching the MISL championship in 2014.
That was his second indoor title, having backstopped the Detroit Ignition to the XSL crown in 2009.
The Comets' triumph just might have been the crowning achievement of Waltman's career as Missouri defeated the defending champion Baltimore Blast in the final series that year, winning the title in an enemy arena. Moreover, the Comets rallied from a two-goal deficit within a 40-second span in the fourth quarter to register a 6-4 win, scoring two goals in the 15-minute mini-game.
"Until you win a championship, you don't really understand what it feels like," Waltman said. "There's only one team standing at the end of the season."
Waltman admitted that he has thought that "every season you don't complete [for a title] is waste of time and energy. I'm super fortunate to just be on some very good teams and very good organizations."
After the Stars' miracle comeback at Baltimore Arena nine years ago, Waltman will never forget the backstroke he did in the locker room in what he called "a river of champagne."
"That was something super special," he added. "The year before we bought the champagne and didn't get to open it because we lost [in the final].
"This was this crazy feeling, and we did it. That moment means so much."
In 2015, Waltman had an opportunity to return to his roots, personal and soccer, to Tacoma and play for the Stars. Since his father was a part-owner of the original Stars, the team he grew up rooting for, who could blame him? His father was into football and lacrosse big time.
"I don't think he ever definitely ever kicked a soccer ball," Waltman said. "My brother and I went to a local soccer camp. Everybody got tickets to a game, and I fell in love with indoor soccer right there. I'm pretty sure we had season tickets probably by the end of the week. My dad was working in the front office. By the end of the following year the Stars were a huge part of our life growing up. I was the kid hanging around the locker room, the kid practices and the kid games.
"Those nights in the Tacoma Dome, you talk about Steve Zungul and Preki. It was awesome. It was the most fun nights.”
The league folded after the 1991-92 season.
While playing for the Comets, a door opened for Waltman to join Tacoma. When the Stars visited Kansas City for a game, he spoke to head coach Darren Sawatzky, who talked about the team's owner and that he had great team. Waltman said the Comets allowed him to join the Stars "free and clear."
"Can't say enough about Brian Budzinski," he added the Comets owner, "just being a good guy and just letting that happen. Couldn't be happier to be playing indoors for the Stars in my hometown. Wish it was the Tacoma Dome, but maybe that's in the future someday. But love our fans and you know the Show Arena where we do play, the boys are gelling and buzzing. It's a fun time. We've had some good years and some rough years. We're definitely headed in a in a much more positive direction on and off the field. It feels great and I'm trying to be a part of it as long as I can. Like stick around as long as I can still do it.
Waltman would love another opportunity to win another championship. He said that he hoped that he will get another opportunity to vie for a championship this season. After Friday night’s win, the Stars (11-9-1, 33 points) are in fourth place in the Western Conference with the Mesquite Outlaws (11-7-2 33) and Monterrey Flash (11-8-2, 32) breathing down their necks for the final playoff berth. Tacoma has three road games remaining in the regular season at the Dallas Sidekicks on Sunday, at the Empire Strykers on Thursday, March 30 and at the defending champion San Diego Sockers on Saturday, April 1.
"This is going be an exciting couple of weeks just to see what happens," Waltman said. "Every game has implications. Everybody's got their phones on, checking the scores, while we're in the locker room. The other day we needed a little help from Chihuahua to beat Monterey but that didn't happen.
"We had some rough games this year, where we had maybe some winnable games that got away from us. We need a little help from the rest of the league. A lot of different scenarios could happen. If we win, that puts us in a pretty good position. We're just taking one game at a time we're at that point the season where you're like, 'Okay guys, this is the most important game of the season' and then the next game, 'Hey guys, it's the most important game of the season.' "
Waltman, who will be 42 on Sept. 19, hasn't set a timetable on how long he will continue to thwart opposing players. Many goalkeepers have played into their forties. Perhaps the most recent example is former Italian international goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, who is still guarding the goal at the age of 45 for Parma in Italy's Serie B.
Of course, indoor soccer takes much more of a toll on a keeper's body than outdoors.
"It's hard to say," he said. "What I've learned from watching some of my friends and watching Tom Brady and Michael Jordan don't make decisions during the season. It's too easy during the season when you're beat up, when you're losing, when things aren't going well. It's easy to go 'I'm done. This is it.' Then comes July, August, you start to get that edge again. If you still want to quit in August, you can do it."
Waltman has more responsibilities these days as he and wife had a baby a year and a half ago.
"That's a new thing that I've never dealt with before," he said. "I used to love going on the road. It's like it's much harder to go on the road. I don't want to leave the house unless it's worth it. So, if a team's not necessarily playing well, it's like now, what am I doing? You know you put in so much sacrifice when you want it to be worth it and you want to win some big games in front of some big crowds."
When the MASL played that 2021 spring season following COVID-19 pandemic rules in front of smaller crowds, Waltman and his teammates and colleagues were reminded why they play the game.
"Playing that season with the COVID year with no fans really made it like very crystal clear that we don't play for the money," he said. "We play to play in front of big crowds and feel that buzz, that adrenaline. That's why we do it. We may have thought we did it for some other reason but no, and we do it for that buzz. It's starting to come back. We're starting to see some nice crowds."
So, it might be this August or a future summer month that Waltman will make that decision.
There are reasons for the 40-something goalkeeper to return to the carpet for the 2023-24 MASL season - the chance to record career save No. 5,000.
It’s an opportunity for Danny Waltman to make some more history and achieve a milestone not many goalkeepers have attained.
Michael Lewis, the editor of FrontRowSoccer.com, can be followed on Twitter at @SoccerWriter. Lewis can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org His book Alive and Kicking: The incredible, but true story of the Rochester Lancers, recently was published. It can be purchased at https://tinyurl.com/2p8rzhpy.lk. His new book, Still Alive and Kicking: The story of the 21st century Rochester Lancers, will be available soon. The book includes many stories and features about indoor soccer.