Bobby Thalman ’13 thinks there is something strange about soccer goalies’ willingness to have the weight of the game riding on their shoulders. He should know, as he prepares for his 29th start as the Bulldogs’ goalkeeper this Saturday against Cornell.
“You have to enjoy the pressure … it’s something in my personality,” Thalman said. “Maybe it’s because I don’t enjoy running that much.”
Thalman said that he always relished the opportunity to be a hero — it was the times when he became the villain that he had trouble with.
When Thalman entered the net for the first time as a Yale goalie in the fall of 2009, his team was already down two goals at Sacred Heart. Thalman went on to allow two more goals. The Bulldogs lost 4–0.
“Before the actual game I had forgotten some gear … I was completely oblivious to what was going on,” Thalman said, laughing at the memory. “Now I can see where I started and how I’ve grown.”
That growth began when he injured his knee in the final moments of his high school career. It was U-18 Nationals, the game was in overtime, and Thalman came out of the box to stuff the opponent’s shot. Instead of a save, however, Thalman injured his knee, and the other team scored to take the win. His sister, Jessica Thalman, said he refused to talk to anyone after that game.
“It was a wake-up call,” Jessica said. “Things always came easy for him, athletically and academically. Here he knew he would have to work. It’s time to grow up. It’s time to move on.”
Jessica, who was a goalkeeper herself at Gonzaga for four years, has helped Thalman work through the challenges of being a Division I goalkeeper. He called her one of his coaches.
Now, when something goes wrong, Thalman said he can take in stride.
“Sophomore year, I was more focused on personal play and statistics, looking at the newspaper, wondering ‘what’s everyone going to think?’” he said. “Now, it’s not one game. It’s not one statistic. It’s whether you get the win.”
But his statistics are impressive. This season Thalman is ranked 10th nationally among Division I goalies, with 62 saves. His save percentage and saves per game are also in the top 15. Men’s head soccer coach Brian Tompkins was quick to point out it wasn’t the number but the nature of the saves that mattered most to the team.
“He’s made game-saving stops in several games and allowed us to win,” Tompkins said. “His shot-stopping range is outstanding.”
That “shot-stopping range” refers to Thalman’s 6-foot-5-inch frame, an asset that allows him to cover more of the net than many other goalies. Jessica said that height allows Thalman to “own the box.”
“He is very, very confident,” she said. “Now he goes up and grabs it like it’s no big deal.”
Thalman’s entire family was able to see him play in person against Harvard in September, when he made eight saves, including three diving stops. He was named Ivy League Player of the Week a few days later for his efforts in that game and in the team’s 1–0 double-overtime heartbreaker of a loss at No. 1 UConn.
Thalman’s confidence has made him a leader of the defense.
“[Success] is about how your team perceives you,” Jessica said. “In that sense, he’s at the top of his game.”
Thalman and his teammates will face Cornell this Saturday with first place in the Ivy League at stake.