RSL: Nolly faces scoring dynamo Donovan in debut
Goalkeeper Jay Nolly stands a pretty good chance of making his Real Salt Lake debut at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday, in an especially harrowing way - by jumping straight into the starting lineup to replace an injured teammate and face the indomitable Landon Donovan and the Los Angeles Galaxy, perhaps the best player and hottest team in the league.
But Nolly knows pressure.
And the second-round draft pick from Indiana faced more than enough of it during his college career to keep from getting too bunched up about the prospect of playing the first minutes of his Major League Soccer career against the league's leading goal-scorer while his teammates try to rebound from a disastrous loss last weekend.
"I'm sure, once I walk out on the field for the anthem and the crowd's cheering, there will be a little butterflies," he said. "But you have to get your head straight, right when the whistle blows. And hopefully, my experience over the years in soccer will help me just stay confident in the game."
Nolly is not absolutely certain, just yet, that he will play against the Galaxy.
But with starting goalkeeper D.J. Countess recovering from a separated left shoulder and unlikely to return to the lineup until next week, Nolly is preparing as if the assignment is a done deal.
Part of the preparation is starting for RSL in an exhibition game against the Seattle Sounders of the lower-level United Soccer League tonight in Seattle - the game will feature mostly backup and developmental players for RSL - along with trying simply to think like a starter.
"That's my job," he said. "If something goes down, I have to be ready to step in. The coaches feel confident in me, the players feel confident in me, and I'm ready to go, if needed."
If he does take the field against the Galaxy, the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Nolly will be playing in a game that counts for the first time since capping his brilliant college career by stopping a penalty kick to give his Hoosiers their second straight NCAA championship.
"That's the reason we went after him," coach John Ellinger said. "We thought he was the best goalkeeper in the [pre-draft] combine and we wanted to make sure we got him. . . . Obviously, Jay hasn't had his chance, but we feel like Jay is more than adequate to step in and play at this level."
He obviously fared pretty well at the last one.
Nolly actually stopped the last two penalty kicks he faced for Indiana - talk about pressure - to keep UC Santa Barbara from upending his Hoosiers in a championship game shootout.
On top of that, he was a third-
team All-America as a senior, and a three-time All-Big Ten Conference first team selection who played every minute of the last 2 1/2 seasons of his college career -- though he has been limited to a couple of reserve games with RSL so far.
That's because Countess had been off to the best start of his young career, leading the league with 35 saves before suffering his injury near the end of a 1-0 loss at Club Deportivo Chivas USA last weekend. A magnetic-resonance imaging exam showed no serious damage, and Countess could conceivably play against the Galaxy if he can tolerate the pain.
But Countess has not worked out with the team yet this week -- most regular players are not traveling to Seattle and have today off -- and his coach seemed inclined to let him heal completely before sending him back on the field, even though Countess has sworn to do whatever it takes to get back in front of the net.
"He will definitely be fine by the Chivas game," Ellinger said, referring to the rematch with Chivas USA at home next Wednesday. "But we'll see how it goes for Saturday."
In any case, Nolly has been approaching the start of his pro career philosophically.
After all, he did not enjoy that amazing college career and blossom into one of the nation's premier keepers before sitting out his first season as a redshirt and playing sparingly the following year. He's prepared for the same kind of acclimation period with RSL, even if he does square off against the Galaxy.
"Pretty much every new team you go to, you have a new beginning," he said. "This is my new beginning. Start from the bottom, work your way up, as far as you want to go. This is just a stepping stone to get some time, get the feeling. And when D.J. gets ready, I'm sure he'll be back, and I'll be back to my job."