The Toth Family Business

by Michael Lewis

Chris Toth was destined to become a goalkeeper.

In many ways, he is just continuing his family business that has spanned an amazing 87 years. Like father, like son, like grandson. 

His grandfather Gyorgy Toth, guarded the goal for Újpest FC and played for the Hungarian national team. 

Likewise for his father Zoltan Toth, who went on to star for the New York Arrows and San Diego Sockers in the Major Indoor Soccer League. Oh, and it certainly didn't hurt that Zoltan's mother was a handball goalkeeper. 

"I can't wait having grandchildren," Zoltan. "That would be a nice generation." 

For now, Zoltan will have to "settle" on Chris performing heroics for the Ontario Fury as one of the best keepers in the Major Arena Soccer League and for the U.S. Beach Soccer national team. Chris has won goalkeeper of the year honors twice and captured three indoor championships with the Sockers. 

As it turned out, Chris was named MASL player of the week this week after backstopping Ontario's 7-3 win over the defending champion Milwaukee Wave. 

"There's not too many parents in sports that have [players] in the position that they play," Zoltan said. "I am very blessed with that because I see a little bit of me and my dad in him. He plays his heart out. Every game he wants to win." 

While it seemed it was only natural for Chris to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, he had to overcome a serious heart ailment that was diagnosed at birth and needed another correction when he was a teenager. 

When he was born, Chris Toth needed surgery transposition of the great arteries. 

"It was actually a new surgery that wasn't performed yet, I believe in California, at the time," he said. "There were two options that my parents were given. One was surgery that was common surgery they were performing, but it was a surgery that I probably wasn't able to play sports. There was the new surgery that nobody had ever done it yet. My parents were given the option. They decided to go with the new surgery. I'm happy that that they did. I had to be monitored closely, but was allowed to play sports, live a normal life." 

During a check-up during his sophomore year in high school, Toth was diagnosed with a problem, doctors had to reverse where his pulmonary and aorta arteries were stitched to the heart. 

"They were backwards," he said. "They actually had to cut them and switch them back into their proper place," he said.

Doctors wanted to see if they could stitch it properly without doing any surgery, Toth said, but a method using catherization in which they insert a balloon into his leg, did not do the job. So, they had to do the regular surgery to correct that. Dr. John Lamberti did both surgeries, when Toth was born and when he was a teenager. Toth said Dr. Lamberti "gave me some confidence about" the second operation. 

"It was kind of surreal just because I was playing soccer and I was always doing these check-ups," Toth said. "I feel fine, but I play soccer and my heart should be fine. One day, it just came back. All of a sudden my Mom, was 'Ok, there's a possibility that you might not be able to play anymore. You're going to have to do something else.' I was 14, 15 at the time and I was like, 'Are you kidding me?' I couldn't imagine my life without playing soccer because I was like if my dad playing, my brother playing, my sister playing. Our life, the whole family was soccer. It was a tough time." 

It got a bit tougher post-surgery on whether Toth could continue playing soccer. 

"It's crazy because they had a meeting after my surgery," he said. "I had to go through testing again and make sure that all the numbers were right. What I was told, there were eight doctors in the room that had met after post-surgery and the question was, 'Can Chris play soccer on the field as a field player because I used to play both field and goal. All of them said no to playing on the field. OK, what about in goal? Four of them said yes and four of them said no. And so that was good enough for me and my parents. So, I just went back to goal, strictly just doing goalkeeping going into my junior year. 

"I've been cleared since. I actually just went a month ago for a checkup. If I wanted to play on the field, I could play on the field. It was just that time after the surgery. Nobody wants to be liable if something happens. I just planned on playing goalkeeper." 

Not just playing goalkeeper but excelling at it. 

After a year in college, Toth decided to turn pro. He tried out with the Sockers, for whom his father Zoltan -- nicknamed "Zollie the Goalie" in many indoor soccer circles, starred from 1980-92. Zoltan, who escaped then Communist-run Hungary in 1979, won league goalkeeper of the year twice and was selected MISL keeper of the decade in the 1980s and seven MISL titles with the Arrows (two) and San Diego (five). 

Toth saw an advertisement for an open tryout for the Sockers and decided to give it a try. 

"My dad had nothing doing with me going to the Sockers at all," he said. "I knew that obviously the history. I paid my 50 bucks, filled out my information, went to the tryout. My dad went with me. Phil [Salvagio, head coach] was there, and he went, 'Zollie? What are you doing here?' 'Oh, my son's trying out.' " 

He had to pay his dues, making the reserve team. Toth didn't play for two years before posting a 25-0 mark as the Sockers’ No. 1 backup goalkeeper. In the 2012-13 season, he set a Premier Arena Soccer League record for the lowest goals-against average in the league (3.23). He shared netminding responsibilities with Boris Pardo for a few seasons, making for a formidable one-two punch in the net. 

"My time in San Diego was great," he said. "I had history there with my Dad playing there. His number is retired, his name is up in the rafters. It's always a special to play in that arena and to see that."

Even his foes have appreciated the 6-1, 170-lb. Toth. 

"Chris has been excellent for many years in the MASL, and his goalkeeper of the year awards are more than deserved," said Tacoma Stars player-coach and reigning league MVP Nick Perera, who rooms with Toth on the U.S. Beach Soccer national team. "He's a huge asset to his team, and in my opinion, he's been the focal point for teams he has played for quite some time. Very few goalkeepers have been able to produce consistently, game-in game-out, at that level, for that length of time. " 

But it’s only natural for a goalkeeper to want to take the majority of starts. When Toth saw an opportunity to join the Fury prior to the 2018-19, he jumped at it. Now 31, Tot said he wanted "a new challenge."

If there has been one constant during Toth's career, it has been his father Zoltan, has his personal goalkeeper coach. After all, it is difficult to question Zoltan's accomplishments.  Zoltan, who escaped then Communist-run Hungary in 1979, won league goalkeeper of the year twice and was selected MISL keeper of the decade in the 1980s and seven MISL titles with the Arrows (two) and San Diego (five). 

On his bio page on the Fury and, Toth was asked who his hero was. His response: "My Dad."

"He's been in my corner my whole life," he said. "He still trains me. He'll come up to Ontario, once, sometimes twice a week and we'll work out. Even when I was in San Diego, I would train." 

Salvagio allowed the elder Toth to train his son. 

Zoltan has owned a ball machine for many years that has helped his son prepare for indoor and beach soccer. 

"Before the World Cup this summer in Paraguay, we were going every single day to the sand pit," Chris said. "He would bring the machine and we were working all kinds of things. Then we would bring it into the indoor field. My success is a lot from him. He puts a lot of time in helping me. He's not hard on me or anything like that, but I've got questions, he gives me his opinions. If I take it if I don't, it doesn't matter. He doesn't care. He just wants to see me be successful."

Zoltan, of course, is biased, when he has talked about his son. 

"Right away he wanted to be a goalie because he saw daddy in the goal," he said. "He put on the gloves. He got all of the technique, all of the training. His ball handling is flawless. He has two hands on the ball, catching it. His feet work is very good. He understands how to play. So, it's all about the evolution of the goalkeeper from a baby to 30-years-old. 

"I think he loves the indoor game because of the excitement, because he’s close to home, because he's very good with his feet." 

Among Toth's accomplishments this season was recording a 7-0 clean sheet of the Mesquite Outlaws on Feb. 7. "It is very hard in indoor soccer to get a shutout," Zoltan said. 

When he isn't guarding the Fury net, Toth is doing the same for the U.S. Beach Soccer national team. He has backstopped the team to the Beach Soccer World Cup in Tahiti in 2013 and Paraguay in 2019. Toth won the Golden Glove as the top goalkeeper in the CONCACAF qualifying tournament. 

"It's the highest honor that I've had in my playing career," Toth said of wearing the USA uniform. "There's nothing like representing your country, especially in a World Cup. It's the highest honor. I know I made my Dad proud because he represented Hungary. Representing my family name means a lot." 

Toth's most memorable beach soccer moment? In a 5-3 extra-time loss to eventual fourth-place finisher and host Tahiti in 2013. 

"I thought it was the best game I ever played in my life," he said. "It was crazy. We were down 2-0 early. We came back. We tied it 3-3, then we go into overtime. The amount of saves I had to make in this game I couldn't tell you. It was insane. We lost the game, it was [sad], but I felt like a winner that day because we were new to the sport and that I was ridiculously good. I wanted to win the game, but you know that was kind of my time in the beach soccer tournament. People were turning heads a bit." 

Perera saw it firsthand at both World Cups. 

"Chris has been one of my best friends for a long time," he said. "He's my roommate on the National team, so we definitely do a lot together. He's a fierce competitor in everything he does and he's someone who pushes his teammates, at training and in the games, to find the next level day in day out.  

"I would say what separates him most from other goalkeepers is his technical ability on the ball, and his overall athleticism. He has more skill and ability than most field players, and his physical ability to stand back up and recover after a save is incredible."

While beach soccer is similar to the arena game because both are small-sided affairs, it is a different world out there, especially for goalkeepers. 

"The biggest factor is that you're on sand. The ball does not roll. The ball bounces, it changes direction," Toth said. "The game is played in the air. So in order to play the game you have to be technical, really, really technical. If you're not technical, I'm not going to say you can't play it but you're going to have a difficult time." 

In goalkeeper years, Toth is essentially a "young pup," at 31, ready to enter his prime. Goalies -- indoors and out -- have been known to play deep into their 30s and even into their 40 -- for example, Rochester Lancers' Marcelo Moreira, who is 45 and will retire this season. 

"I want to play as long as I can," Toth said. "If my heart condition allows me to, I'm going to keep playing. If I can go to 38, low 40s, 41, 42, somewhere in there, that would be awesome. Indoor, it beats you up. Around that time, I will be splitting games. But right now, I'm trying to play as much as I can and live it up." 

Much to the chagrin of opposing strikers and midfielders.