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Canisius High School's Scalisi shows no fear

by Matthew Ondesko, Managing Editor

Photos: Sydney Giardino

There’s a lot that goes into being a sold soccer keeper. You need to be fearless in the air. You need to have a short memory, and you need to have great communication with the back line - as to get them in the right position.

It’s not that easy of position to play as some might think. Sure, you might not get a lot of opportunities during a game, but the ones you do get, you need to make sure your on the top of your game.

After all, it only takes one shot to go in to make a difference in a game.

Canisius High School keeper John Scalisi knows all about pressure. He is the starting keeper at a school that has a great soccer pedigree - where titles are expected.

“Canisius High School is very well known in Western New York for its successful athletic and academic programs, so playing for a school with such a high level of standards in both is a great opportunity for our students and athletes. Before I came to Canisius, I was able to watch the program and the team play before high school, so playing on the team now is definitely a great privilege and goal that I have always had for myself,” stated Scalisi. “It keeps me in check, as I always want to raise the bar and improve not only myself, but the program as well. Having such a strong soccer program including two JV teams, allows for long term development and a competitive atmosphere. There is a lot expected out of me to not only perform well on the pitch, but to be a strong leader, especially this year since I am one of the Captains of the team. Each year, the upperclassmen of our Varsity soccer team helps support the new players by being mentors and resources for both athletics and academics to help manage high expectations at Canisius.”

Scalisi will be the first one to tell you that his confidence has matured over the years. Coming into Canisius, or playing for his club team Empire United, Scalisi may have not been as confident in the box.

He had to grow into the position over the years. Scalisi has been also to taken control of his area and has found his voice, which is extremely important playing that positions. Some of the best keepers in the world are the ones that can take control.

“My own confidence has matured and developed as I played throughout my years for both Canisius and Empire. It's always something that can be improved on for my own development.. Over the years, I have built confidence whether it was finding my voice, or taking control of the defensive third. With time, I have controlled how I use my voice in specific situations and when to do so,” stated Scalisi. “My biggest growth from the goalkeeping position is to predict and expect. If I can predict a through ball, a cross, or shot, two or three steps before it happens, I can be more prepared in my net and stop opportunities from my opponents. There's moments where I need to keep my cool, and there are moments where I am yelling as loud as I can. Set pieces and counter attacks are key moments for me as every piece of my communication must be clear and commanding. Communication is super important, especially with my defensive line as communication prevents those chances on net.”

Setting up the line is something that Scalisi has worked at. Making sure his defensive players are in position is something that he has worked at. Scalisi makes sure that his teammates are in the right positions, the right distance and have the right angle.

If the wall is set the right way, then all Scalisi has to do is make sure he's in the right position for the shot. It’s the little details that has set Scalisi a part from some of the other keepers in Western New York.

“Position, Distance, and Angle from the net is how I judge my wall setup. Anything closer in and more direct on goal, I use more numbers defensively in the wall. Free kicks further away tend to be less numbers, but more marking organization in the box and alerting players to uncovered opponents,” stated Scalisi. “My wall is positioned to cut off angles and cover my posts so that it makes it harder on the opposing strikers. Positionally for me, I stand in the middle line between the middle of the ball and the middle of the net. Goalkeeping is all about angles and how to cover the net. Shot stopping is my strong suit as a keeper, especially any shot outside the 18.”

The biggest part of a keepers game now is their feet. Keepers back in the day were never asked to use their feet to get the team moving. Now, they are asked to start the play, especially if the team starts from back.

Scalisi has worked on that part of his game, wanting to be complete keeper. He knows if he goes on to the next level, college coaches will expect him to start to the play from back. To make things more interesting, Scalisi’s feet are two different sizes - and big - as he carries a size 13.

“Playing with my Empire club team, we build out of the back which has allowed me to develop the necessary foot skills and gain experience to make quick transitions and switches. Working and communicating with my defenders for a couple years at Empire and Canisuis has built a lot of chemistry in the back line and I can put a lot of trust in them to make quick decisions in moments of intense pressure,” explained Scalisi. “My feet are actually two different sizes and having a large foot (size 13) had presented challenges in itself, as I was going through my growth spurt. I keep my touches compact which requires more effort as there is a larger surface area, and greater chance to not receive the ball on a desired touch. Over time, I have adjusted with both building out of the back and going long when it comes to distribution. Being versatile in distribution is key for me as being too one dimensional in style of play is easy to predict. I can get a team up whether it is switching a ball wide, playing the split/pocket, and going over the top. A crucial part is distributing under pressure and staying consistent with my passing. Aside from the distributive aspect of having good feet, footwork is another key focus of mine that I am always trying to improve at. Having quick and choppy footwork especially when doing it while cutting off an angle and timing a save is super important. Ladder and drill work requiring quick footwork is usually incorporated in my daily workout.”

When Scalisi isn’t playing with his high school team, he is playing for Empire. Playing travel soccer is a big deal. That’s where a player gets noticed be colleges and universities. That’s also where a player can get more coaching, and hear and different perspective on what they need to work on.

It also allows a player like Scalisi to see how he matches up with some of the best players in the country. Empire has a reputation for sending players onto colleges, universities and even the professional level.

“Empire has provided me with good resources and pushes me to the next level of play when it comes to soccer. Empire premier soccer has made me a more polished goalkeeper and a stronger leader,” stated Scalisi. “Being Captain on my club team is a big responsibility to have and is challenging at times, yet it has led me to become a better player while affording me the ability to develop my leadership skills as an individual. Empire created the opportunity for me in my first year at the club to step in as a leader on the pitch and become the primary goalie. I think each player needs to evaluate the opportunities a club has to offer and determine what best fits the person. I did take a look at other clubs and had offers to play but team chemistry is also a big factor and my Empire team has been together for several years.”

Playing against some of the best competition can also mean playing with pressure. Seeing coaches in the stands grading you on everything that you do can be nerve wracking at times. Scalisi knows he can’t do anything about who is watching him in the stands.

All he tries to do is focus on his game. Focus on his technical part of his game. He knows he can’t worry about what people think of him. He does know if he plays the game the way he knows how that everything will fall into place.

“With a higher level of play and stronger competition present at club games, it does put more pressure and discipline on me to be at my best in that environment. With scouts watching on the sidelines and off the field, I tend to really focus on four key aspects of my game. Technically, Tactically, Mentally,and Physically I have to make sure I perform well in those categories when it comes to my performance in games. Technically, it comes to making the proper save, timing myself to come out on through balls, proper technique, and proper distribution,” explained Scalisi. “Tactically for me I tend to analyze the game as it goes and I locate top threats from the opposing team, how they play, how our shape plays against their formation, and how we transition and respond to their style of play. With tactics, it needs to be smooth and fluid through distribution, as I need to make the right pass at the right time. Mentally, I need to be alert and checked in at all times when a game has more pressure. Mentally for me is being aware of my surroundings, to not hesitate, and to never get myself defeated or underestimate my opponents. Short memory is commonly associated with goalkeeping as a mistake is put in the back of my head and I have to move on to the next part of the game. Physically, it is making myself aggressive whether it is making the safest decision and playing it safe, or coming out as aggressive as I can.”

Aggressive is something that Scalisi is, especially in the air. He knows going up for a ball in the box can be a dangerous thing. Players going for the ball can take his legs out, or knock heads. If you want to be a great keeper you need to be fearless when players are around you.

And, Scalisi is definitely that.

“Being a goalkeeper requires you to be put into situations where courage is needed. Balls in the air and taking control is another strong suit of mine. Predicting and stopping crosses, corners, free kicks, long balls, and shots in the air is a strength of mine that I am very good at. Being a goalkeeper is a risky position at times when putting my body on the line is a must with zero hesitation, yet I need to be tough both mentally and physically to keep on playing. I have taken my own knocks and hits, but it only makes me stronger as a player. There's time when I know I am putting myself in a dangerous position and there's times when collision is unexpected,” stated Scalisi. “Through years of playing in the older age divisions, it demands me to be fearless, continuously work on my own aggression to be an assertive keeper. Being in shape and at a good physical build, I tend to go into physical situations with zero hesitancy and full confidence. Injuries do occur for me as it does take a toll on me, however with proper post-game treatment and recovery I can stay healthy and keep myself safe from serious injury.”

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