Will the Wall and the Wave
William Banahene remembers when, as a young goalkeeper, he received some fatherly advice.
Jude Banahene told his son to take saving shots personally.
"Everyone says that you should be you should be confident and not arrogant on the field," Banahene said. "My dad said you should be arrogant, not cocky. Every shot should be able to be saved. Take it personal. Every shot that I get, whether that's from three yards away or from 20 yards away, I just feel that I have to save it. That really shaped me as an athlete and shaped me as a goalkeeper with that notion that whether it's a back post, it's my job to save it."
Which he has done so well for the Milwaukee Wave this season.
And which is one of the reasons why the 28-year-old has emerged as one of the top goalkeepers in the Major Arena Soccer League this season, why the Wave is atop the Eastern Division, and why the 28-year-old Banahene has lived up to his nickname, Will the Wall.
"We brought him in because we thought he would help us get better and get back to Milwaukee Wave standards," head coach Giuliano Oliviero said. "If you look at the rule change last year, where they call it the futsal rule where the goalkeeper has less involvement in the buildup once we're over our yellow line, and then you look at William's shot-stopping ability it starts there and where it goes from there."
It has been more than what Banahene has accomplished on the carpet.
"The biggest bonus is that he's just an unbelievable human being off the field, in the dressing room, in the community. Just a really a first-class act," Oliviero said. "That's a big bonus for us. Just to see the other side of Willie, being a role model and young kids being around him. He's actually done some youth coaching in Milwaukee, and in the dressing room, the positivity everything about him, we're blessed to have him."
Before he took up soccer, Banahene tried his hand at tennis. Jude, his father, was a member of the Ghanaian national tennis team and he hoped that William and his sisters would excel in the sport like he did.
"My dad was a very good tennis player,"Banahene said. "When my sisters and I were between five and eight my dad would take us to the courts probably every day to play tennis. I don't know if he thought we were going to be the next Serena or Venus [Williams]. We all just fell out of love with tennis. I think it was too much pressure put on us early on. My dad was kind of like, 'I'm not going really push you to do anything.’ "
That's when Banahene turned to soccer, joining a team in Brighton, N.Y., a suburb of Rochester.
"He didn't really put pressure on us," he said of his father. "I fell in love with it by myself."
While playing for a travel team, Banahene was asked to play between the pipes in a match.
"I didn't initially want to play goalkeeper, but I didn't really like running that much," he said. "I made the trade off and I played goalkeeper and a half. The coach, his name was Spencer, and was the high school goalkeeper at the time. He basically said: 'Can you play five more minutes of the second half?' "
Banahene replied, "I can play five minutes as long as I can play in the outfield."
He did not see the outfield for the rest of the game.
"We're playing a good team, and I'm making save after save after save and I'm looking at the scoreboard and I see the time going down,"Banahene said. "I'm crying as I'm making sales, because he's not taking me off. I think I kept a shutout. I'm completely in tears. He sat me down was and said, 'Hey, listen, you did really good, and we needed you there.' That was the start of it. The rest is history."
It was not known how many Banahene has made opposing players leave the field in tears, but he certainly frustrated plenty with his shot-stopping ability.
Banahene stood out for Brighton High School. That school, incidentally, produced standouts who made names for themselves in pro soccer. One was Dave Sarachan, a former Rochester Lancers forward and indoor star who was Bruce Arena's first lieutenant with the LA Galaxy and the U.S. men's national team and who was an interim USMNT coach for a year. The other was Dennis Mepham, another ex-Lancer, and Rochester Flash defender, who enjoyed a 10-year indoor career with the Buffalo Stallions, Cleveland Force and Cleveland Crunch.
After high school, Banahene attended SUNY-Canton, transferred to Niagara University before moving onto Buffalo State.
While Banahene played for one of the Lancers' teams in a Rochester indoor league, team owner Salvatore "SoccerSam" Fantauzzo was so impressed with the goalkeeper, that he nicknamed him "Will the Wall." Fantauzzo has a history of giving players unique nicknames.
"Because he's like a wall," Fantauzzo said, adding that Banahene stopped 20 shots in a relatively short time.
Banahene said he received that nickname before he even met Fantauzzo.
"It had to be after the game. I don't even know if I introduced myself to him yet," he said. "He said, 'He's Will the Wall.' It stuck. It's kind of ironic because that Lancer team was the opportunity to play and showcase myself as a player. They still call me Will the Wall."
As nicknames go, that’s probably one of the best a goalkeeper can be dubbed, especially one who is 6-feet and 228-lbs.
"Yeah, absolutely," Banahene said. "It rolls off the tongue.”
Banahene eventually played for the Lancers in 2017 in the outdoor National Premier Soccer League, recording a 0.71 goals-against average and earning fourth team All-NPSL honors (the league had almost 100 teams that year). He played another year with Rochester before opportunity knocked with the Harrisburg Heat during the 2018-19 campaign. He was named to the MASL All-Rookie team in 2019, and recorded a 6.07 GAA in four seasons in Harrisburg. Banahene also was ranked among the top five goalies in saves and save percentage during the 2019-20 and 2021-22 seasons.
As a free agent after last season, opportunity knocked for Banahene, who joined Milwaukee.
"I know a lot of other teams had an interest in William," Oliviero said. "It's a great match for both the Milwaukee Wave and for William Banahene."
Oliviero has liked the way Banahene has adapted to the Wave style and system. Banahene has a 5.35 GAA.
"He's a very humble human being," the Wave head coach said. "He knows what his weaknesses are, and he confronts them. He continues to get better and better. If you're not open to learning, and you're not going get better and well open to learning. It's learning our system and how we play, and learning the strengths and weaknesses of his teammates."
Last weekend, Bahahene experienced both ends of the goalkeeping spectrum as we were reminded of how quickly a team's fortunes can change. Or as Oliviero put it, "the wonderful world of indoor soccer."
On Friday, Feb. 10, Banahene enjoyed the rare exhilaration of an indoor clean sheet. He and reserve keeper Augie Rey combined to blank the St. Louis Ambush, 7-0. It was the Wave's first shutout in five years, having last blanked an opponent on Jan. 20, 2018, a 6-0 home win over the Syracuse Silver Knights.
A day later, the Wave went down at the Baltimore Blast, 11-3.
"It was crazy. It was like soccer in a nutshell, where you can get all the bounces one game and then everything's just not going away the next game," said Banahene, who said he believed it was only one of 20 shutouts in league history.
Banahene, who had 11 saves at the time, was forced out of the game with a groin injury in the third quarter, and Rey backstopped the Wave the rest of the way with seven stops
"Rey played a better game than I did.," he said. "That was awesome. By the end, we were leading 7-0, and our players are diving and throwing their bodies to make blocks to keep this shutout. A lot of times you keep a shutout, and the backup goalie doesn't have an opportunity to be a part of it. It was an awesome experience."
But not so awesome in Baltimore the next day.
"It was Autism Night and I've been a part of those nights with Harrisburg," Banahene said. "It's the night they take very seriously; a sold-out crowd. They took it to us right away. Everything wanted to bounce their way. Milwaukee and Baltimore is one of the oldest rivalries, and they have an experienced team. It was definitely a learning experience for everyone. You need those days in order to get along in the playoffs."
Ah, about the postseason.
Entering this weekend's action, the Wave (9-3-1, 27 points) leads the Eastern Division, four points clear of the Florida Tropics (7-6-2, 24). Milwaukee hosts the St. Louis Ambush on Friday at 7:35 p.m. ET before visiting Utica City FC for a Sunday encounter at 2:05 p.m. ET.
The team is in great position to clinch a playoff spot soon, secure the division crown and vie for postseason glory. The Wave has won seven indoor titles in its history, the last being in 2018-19.
Banahene, however, is looking that far ahead.
"Everybody wants to be a part of a championship for every sport," he said. "That's why you play. I'm just taking the game at a time. I just want to see what's in front of us. My tunnel vision right now is St. Louis. There still is a lot of season ahead; a lot of trades as we saw, can happen. We just have to stay grounded."
When he isn't saving the day for the Wave, soccer also has been on Banahene's mind. He is the president of a club he has founded in his hometown, Brighton Football Club.
That's pretty impressive, since Banahene is only 28. He has yet to hit his prime as a goalkeeper. Many keepers don't realize their full potential until their thirties.
Banahene said that he hoped to be around to find how far can go and improve.
"I set myself for six more seasons at least," he said.
Banahene noted how well some of the more experienced goalkeepers have fared this season, including the San Diego Sockers' Boris Pardo (38-years-old), Baltimore's William Vanzela (turns 38 on March 1), and St. Louis Ambush's Paulo Nascimento (37), who returned from an ACL injury.
"So the sky's the limit on how long you want to play," he said. "Hopefully, it's here in Milwaukee."
If Banahene continues his fine play, he will hit his goal by stopping many more goals.
Michael Lewis, the editor of FrontRowSoccer.com, can be followed on Twitter at @SoccerWriter. Lewis can be reached via email at email@example.com 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