32714_isi_seitzchris_mlsbb031514111 Bill Barrett/isiphotos.com
Player Spotlight

Chris Seitz Helps FC Dallas Start 2014 on Strong Note

A former youth phenom who has yet to realize his potential in the pros, the 27-year-old goalkeeper has taken advantage of his opportunity in Dallas, helping his club to strong start to the the 2014 campaign.

BY Brooke Tunstall Posted
March 27, 2014
8:06 PM
AMONG THE MORE PLEASANT surprises in the early part of the 2014 Major League Soccer season has been the play of formerly downtrodden FC Dallas, now undefeated through three games.

And almost as surprising as Dallas’ strong start is one of the reasons behind it—stellar play in goal by Chris Seitz, a former can’t-miss-phenom turned underachieving backup who just might finally be living up to his vast potential.

His numbers—a 1.33 goals-against average and a 77.7 save-percentage—aren’t garish but Seitz is commanding his box and doing the little things coaches look for when differentiating between average and very good.

“He’s been very solid for us,” said Drew Keeshan, FC Dallas’ longtime goalkeeping coach. “You can see the things we’ve been working on with him paying off. One of the things we emphasized with him was being more aggressive on crosses, coming off his line higher. This last game (against Chivas USA) was the best game I’ve seen him have with crosses. Any ball that came into his box his ball he came and got.”

“He’s matured quite a bit in his play and that’s an example of it.”

The path to success is rarely smooth, even for the most talented athletes, but for Seitz it’s been an unusually bumpy ride.

At six-foot-three and with speed and reflexes that belied his 230-pound frame, Seitz was gifted with prototypical goalkeeper features that allowed him to play with a confidence and poise rare in a young net-minder.

Seitz’s CV as a youth player was so accolade-strewn that it almost seems too good to be true. As a high school senior he was the player of the year in talent-rich California and as a college freshman he helped Maryland win the NCAA title, playing so well in the College Cup that then-ESPN analyst Eric Wynalda enthusiastically compared Seitz to iconic American goalkeeper Brad Friedel. After an All-American sophomore season Real Salt Lake selected him fourth overall in 2007, the third-highest a goalkeeper had ever been taken in the history of MLS’ college draft.

Seitz also starred for various youth national teams, helping the U.S. make a good run in the 2007 U-20 World Cup and then starting for the U-23 national team when it qualified for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

He even got a taste of the senior national team when, shortly after the U-20 World Cup in 2007, he was called in as Tim Howard’s understudy for a friendly with Brazil. And when Howard dislocated his finger in the game’s 58th minute, it appeared the 20-year-old Seitz would be pressed into service.

“I had a really good week of training (with the national team), I was definitely ready if they needed me,” Seitz said. “It would have been an amazing opportunity.”

Alas, with Seitz quickly warming up on the sidelines, Howard got his finger taped and stayed in the game. And that’s the closest Seitz has come to playing for the senior national team.

Weeks after Seitz was drafted, Salt Lake acquired veteran Nick Rimando in a trade with New York and Rimando promptly put a strangle-hold on the starting job in Utah—a vice-like grip that he has still not relinquished. In three seasons in Salt Lake City Seitz, played all of seven regular season games.

“It’s such a big transition to the pros, especially for someone like me who left college early after two years,” said Seitz. “While I matured at Maryland, off the field, for me, Salt Lake was a good place to learn, to really mature and learn to be a professional. I worked closely with Nick Rimando and even though I didn’t play a lot, I learned so much about how to approach training, be ready for games.”

His first big break as a pro appeared to come in 2010 when he was traded to the expansion Philadelphia Union where, to be polite, things did not go well.

Seitz started the Union’s first 23 games but a combination of expansion-team follies and his inconsistent play led to a league-worst 1.80 GAA and a .601 save-percentage that was next-to-last. Worse, he rarely showed the confidence and poise he’d so often demonstrated as a youth player. After the season, the Union opted not to renew his contract and the Can’t Miss Kid was now being let go by an expansion team.

Seitz landed in Dallas but was once again stuck behind an entrenched starter in Kevin Hartman, one of MLS’ most-decorated goalkeepers. Unsurprisingly, playing time was sparse and Seitz only played in five games, combined, in 2011 and 12.

“He never complained, always came in and worked hard, did whatever we asked of him to get better,” said Keeshan. “He’s always had a great attitude.”

Seitz’s character, of course, was never in question. Two seasons ago he cut short his season to undergo a surgical procedure to donate bone marrow to a cancer-ridden stranger after he proved to be a match based on a DNA swab he had given years earlier in Salt Lake City. That act of selflessness earned Seitz MLS’ Humanitarian of the Year award in 2012 and probably secured his spot in heaven but did little to help him win a starting job.

While Seitz was recovering from surgery, Dallas signed Peruvian national team starter Raul Fernandez to replace Hartman, and though Seitz had a solid preseason in 2013, then-coach Schellas Hyndman opted to give the starting job to Fernandez, who merely played well enough to start last season’s MLS All-Star Game.

But Seitz' strong play in training was rewarded with eight starts, including the last four of the season when Fernandez went down with a sports hernia that would require offseason surgery from which he’s still recovering.

That meant Seitz came to training camp this spring on top of the depth chart and he showed up “really, really fit,” said Keeshan. “I don’t know the exact figure (in terms of weight), but this is the most toned I’ve seen him. He came in very prepared.”

And that preparation, both physical and mental, led to strong showings like the Chivas match. “I didn’t necessarily make a lot of saves,” Seitz said, but Chivas plays “a lot of balls on the flanks and were sending in a lot of crosses and I was able to get to them all. I thought that was probably one of my cleanest games.”

Fernandez played in a reserve team game this weekend and the team estimates he’s about two weeks from full fitness, at which time there will be a choice for Keeshan and head coach Oscar Pareja to make.

“There’s going to be a battle for it, like any team that has two goalkeepers who are No. 1 caliber,” said Keeshan. “It’s going to be an interesting couple of weeks and whoever is playing best, that’s who is going to start.”

Seitz, for his part, is happy knowing he’s got a fair shot. “As long I show improvement and show results, I’ll get opportunities,” he said.

And while his immediate focus is on helping Dallas win and keeping his starting job, he makes no secret of a long-term goal to get back to the national team. “One hundred percent, I follow the national team very closely and that’s something I strive to be a part of.”

Though his professional history doesn’t yet suggest a national team future, Seitz still has the phenom’s skill-set few American goalkeepers of his generation can claim. And with Tim Howard and Nick Rimando turning 35 this year, there’s likely going to be some big openings on the U.S. national team’s goalkeeper depth chart after the World Cup. Brad Guzan, yes. But then..?

While this is Seitz’ eighth year in the league, he turned 27 earlier this month—which means he’s just now entering his goalkeeping prime. He’s also younger than all but four of the goalkeepers who have started in MLS this season. If he can keep the starting job in Dallas, that likely means he’s playing well. And if he’s playing well, then suddenly the national team doesn’t seem like such a long shot.

“There’s a lot off great young goalkeepers in the national team right now—Sean Johnson, Bill (Hamid), Tally (Hall),” he said. “They’ve all been successful in this league and gotten call-ups to the national team and I strive to be there and compete with all of them.”

Brooke Tunstall is a veteran journalist who has covered Major League Soccer since its initial player dispersal draft. You can follow him on Twitter.

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