Matt Bersano is a Redshirt Senior at Penn State University completing his Masters degree after graduating from Oregon State this past winter. Matt has been blogging for us at The Athlete Story detailing his quest to become a professional soccer player. If you missed Matt’s previous posts, feel free to take a peak at (LINK FOR FIRST TWO)

My Mind's Battle

Matt Bersano, Reno FC 1868 goalkeeper

It was the 13th minute of our game against Indiana and they had the ball in our attacking third. Indiana’s attacker made a nice run with the ball, dicing a few of our guys in the process, and found his way into our box. One of our defenders met him 1 v 1 and attempted a late sliding tackle...Penalty!

A dilemma for the team, but an opportunity for me. I managed to focus in on the penalty-taker for Indiana. If I could pick up any tell from the him (the striker) that could help me determine the side he would shoot that was a huge bonus. As he approached the ball I picked my side...please be right...please be right. He struck the shot...I dove...SAVE! I managed to get two hands to the ball and parry it around the post.

That PK save versus Indiana was the perfect start to my short time in the Big Ten Conference. After three years of playing in the Pac 12, stepping into a new conference and getting immediate recognition gave me confidence that you can’t simulate. Tweets, texts, and phone calls were flying in from friends nationwide that were able to catch the game on the Big Ten Network. As a goalkeeper there are not many things more satisfying than helping your team get a result against a conference rival. That kind of respect from your teammates adds to the confidence you need to be a goalkeeper.

Two games after the Indiana match we were playing Michigan. In the final forty seconds of the match I hit a dropkick with a weak ankle and mishit my kick. Michigan managed to gain possession of the ball and fire a shot on goal. I was out of position and they scored from 35 yards. Game over, 2-0 Michigan.

Just a week prior I was the hero in our 1-0 win against Indiana and now I felt like I let everyone down because of a mistake at the end of our game against Michigan. Welcome to the life of a goalkeeper.

During your Senior season it’s hard to go through these kinds of learning experiences and not feel that your professional chances are dwindling. This is your final year in college and you will never have another chance after this year. This results in you experiencing highs and lows unlike any of those you have ever felt before. That’s why it’s important to have a short memory and not dwell on any mistakes. I’ve played over sixty college soccer games and shown through my play that I am a professional prospect. One mistake will not affect my future or overall worth. But damn, does it feel like it at the time!

I feel I’ve done a pretty good job at handling the pressure this year but the stress inevitably bubbles at times. A majority of conversations I have with friends and family result in questions I frankly don’t have the answer to. Where do you think you’ll end up next season? What agency are you looking into? Am I worried I won’t get drafted? What happens if I don’t get drafted? Of course I have thought about all of these questions but it doesn’t do me any good to dwell on all of this right now.

I do my best to answer these questions politely but in reality I don’t have the answers. I need to put my focus into my practices and classes instead of worrying about all of these things. Once the season is finished I’ll have plenty of time to answer these questions and sort out my future.

This year I’m one of the oldest members of my team and done my best to embrace the leadership position. I look forward to training everyday and remaining confident while staying humble. This allows me to work hard, learn and develop daily.

My goalkeeper coach Mike Behonick has been a great influence on me this year. In addition to helping me become a better goalkeeper he’s helped me handle all the off the field stuff. His best advice has been “Just play.” Seems simple, but it is so easily forgotten. When you have a goal and are so determined to reach that goal it can be easy to lose your way but Mike has helped keep me grounded.

We currently have six regular season games left, four of which are in the Big Ten. It’s been a solid season thus far for us but we are currently on the outside looking in on the NCAA Tournament unless we win the Big Ten. It’s important we remain focused on our  preseason goal of winning the Big Ten because it’s still very much attainable. If we do, you never know what can happen. These next few weeks are going to be wild.