Imagine entering your first season of eligibility as the starting goalkeeper for the Michigan men’s soccer team.
Now picture replacing a graduated goalie who broke nearly every Michigan record in the books.
Welcome to the life and times of redshirt freshman Patrick Sperry.
Last season, the Wolverines already had a permanent starter in former goalkeeper Peter Dzubay, and Sperry redshirted during his freshman year. While Sperry spent the year training, Dzubay found his way into the Michigan record books. Over the course of his four-year career, Dzubay became a goalkeeper legend, currently holding Michigan records for career saves (298), wins (36) and shutouts (19).
In a nutshell, Sperry has a pair of extra-large shoes to fill. But the Hinsdale, Ill., native welcomes the challenge.
“I don’t feel pressure, but Peter was obviously a very good goalkeeper,” Sperry said. “I just feel more of a responsibility to take his spot and do as good of a job as he did as much as I can.”
So far, Sperry is on his way to making his mark as a Michigan goalkeeper. He already notched a total of 40 saves in the first 10 games of the season. He also recorded two shutouts for the Wolverines, including their 3-0 victory against Oakland on Sept. 20.
“It’s all about maturity and experience, and Sperry is now getting that level of experience,” Michigan coach Steve Burns said. “In that (goalkeeper) position, it is the most difficult one on the field because you are that last line of defense. More than any other position, you have to go through some failures, realize what your fears are and deal with criticism. When you can withstand all that pressure, it builds your confidence base. While Sperry’s at the beginning of that curve, I think he’s doing really well with it.”
Sperry has shown incredible maturity as a starter despite this being his first taste of college competition. In Sunday’s double-overtime game against Indiana that ended in a 2-2 tie, Burns pointed to Sperry’s contributions in keeping Michigan (0-1-1 Big Ten, 5-4-1 overall) in the contest. Specifically, Burns noted Sperry’s impressive range of distribution, an important skill for a goalkeeper.
“I choose to punch out a ball if it is coming through a lot of traffic or if it is further out of my range,” Sperry said. “If I may not be able to hold the ball cleanly, I just make sure it gets out of danger. But if I have a little bit more time, I try to catch it.”
Sperry’s style of defending has proven very aggressive. He doesn’t shy away from leaving his post and challenges opposing attackers.
“I’m always on my toes, ready to come off my line and make a play,” Sperry said. “You don’t know when someone may miss a head ball or (if there’s) a bad bounce. Anything can happen. You just try to be ready to make a play.”
Burns mentioned that Sperry’s assertive style testifies to the goalie’s motivation. He said that Sperry hopes to claim the goalkeeper spot this summer for the Michigan Bucks, the Premier Development League (PDL) team based in Detroit. Sperry’s impressive shutout performance against Oakland, in which he also notched five saves, certainly sent a statement – Oakland’s losing goalkeeper was the starter for the Bucks last summer.
In that contest as well as in many others Sperry has demonstrated his incredible drive, especially by sacrificing his body to save a goal. But for the first-year goal keeper, throwing his body at the mercies of the game is his job; “It’s business then,” Sperry said.
As the last line of defense for Michigan, Sperry also provides a valuable set of eyes and ears for the rest of his teammates.
“I see the whole field back there,” Sperry said. “I’m the last man. I can see something that maybe the other players can’t see. Communicating helps the others stay focused, and it also helps me stay in the game for 90 minutes. And then I’m ready to make a big play or any kind of play that comes my way.”
Sperry and the Wolverines will look to contain Detroit on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the U-M Soccer Field.