Three matches into the 2010 campaign, Fire goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra hasn’t experienced a dream start to his MLS playing career. Thrust into the starting lineup after veteran Jon Busch was waived five days prior to the season opener, the 24-year-old has been consummate in his professionalism, fully embracing his new role even though the results have yet to come.
On paper it’s been two losses, one draw, one point and five goals conceded for the second-year net minder. He’s had shaky bits, like his first touch against New York. He’s also shown moments of great clarity and athleticism -- see his 37th minute save against of Bobby Convey’s effort in Saturday night’s 2-1 loss to San Jose.
The controversy that ensued with Busch’s exit from the team, mixed with negative results on the field have left some questioning the decision. The Virginia Commonwealth product is adamant that no one is a bigger critic than himself.
“I’m always going to put things on my shoulders – it’s just a habit,” Dykstra said after Tuesday’s training session. “When you lose, you always look at yourself and ask, ‘Could I have done better?’ I’m harder on myself than I probably need to be.”
Though all previous goals against couldn’t be blamed on him, Dykstra took some criticism for the first goal conceded in Saturday night’s loss.
Here’s the painful recap: Left back Tim Ward played a slow ball back to Dykstra -- with San Jose winger Joey Gjertsen in hot pursuit and seeing that the pass lacked enough pace, Dykstra and C.J. Brown charged the ball from opposite directions, resulting in a collision that saw the ball squirt to Arturo Alvarez. With Dykstra well out of goal and gone to ground, the Salvadoran international had an empty net for target practice, choosing to chip the sprawling keeper to give the Earthquakes a 1-0 lead in the 49th minute.
Fans directed frustration at all Fire players involved:
“Ward should have played a stronger ball,” or, “C.J.’s a veteran, he should have blasted it to the suites,” or most inevitable, “If the keeper comes out, he has to win the ball.”
“A lot of people have talked about that play,” responded Dykstra. “They say it was because of bad communication and point fingers all around. At the end of the day, it was a difficult situation to deal with. I tried to make a play and it backfired -- that’s part of the position and you learn from it.”
Head coach Carlos de los Cobos reinforced the confidence he has in his players following Saturday night’s loss.
''Their first goal was a mistake, a very big mistake, but we're starting the season, and I believe in my players. They're working hard,'' said de los Cobos at the post-game press conference.
Dykstra received more confidence and a little advice from his former mentor Busch, who in a unique twist of fate returned to Toyota Park as San Jose’s backup keeper, just three weeks after his dismissal.
“Honestly we barely spoke. I know it was probably an emotional time for Jon, but he just shook my hand and told me, ‘Keep your head up.’”
Still searching for his first win, his first clean sheet, his first spectacular save -- Dysktra remains positive and sees things shifting for the team.
“I’m not frustrated. I mean it’s a new team – it’s a different team with a different style of play. I’m a new goalkeeper to C.J. and [Wilman] Conde, so there’s a learning process and there has to be a level of patience there. I’m not worried at all. I’m not frustrated. Obviously you want to win every time, but there’s a lot that’s out of your hands in games and you deal with what you can.”
To be sure, the Fire haven’t played badly and neither has Dykstra. The consensus has been that the club was dominant in each game, falling victim to defensive mental lapses and inaccurate finishing up top. Their lone point came sandwiched between two one-goal losses – frustrating as that all may be, there are positives to take from each performance.
Given their results and anemic finishing, there may be no better team for the club to come up against than this weekend’s opponents, D.C. United.
The capital city club will enter Saturday’s match worse off than the Fire -- United have leaked nine goals at the back and scored only twice so far this season, posting a -7 goal differential.
The trip to RFK Stadium, just a half-hour away from Dykstra’s hometown in Woodbridge, VA, could be be the young keeper’s first career victory. Before he or the team get ahead of themselves, there are very simple things that need to be fixed for the club to gain three points on Saturday.
“We have to keep learning from our mistakes. The goals that we’ve given up have been because of shape issues and misplayed balls – those little things that can easily be corrected. On the other end we need to take our opportunities better. Like they’re trying to bond with Collins [John] I’m trying to do the same with the back line. I think we’re doing fine – once we start clicking we’ll be alright.”