By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
When the New Jersey City University men’s soccer team prepared to begin the 2014 season, the Gothic Knights were missing a very important ingredient. They needed a goalkeeper.
NJCU head men’s soccer coach Patrick Snyder thought he had two recruits entering the program this fall.
“We had some options, but one kid just didn’t fit our profile,” Snyder said. “Both of our goalkeepers from last year didn’t return – one chose to leave and the other didn’t have the academics down.”
So Snyder made one phone call – to former Observer Male Athlete of the Year Tyler Krychkowski.
The celebrated North Arlington High School graduate, the recipient of The Observer’s top award in 2012, had been a midfielder with the Gothic Knights for the first two years of his college career.
Krychkowski was always asked to be the emergency fill-in at goalie – even though he never played the position at all.
“I told Tyler that he had to be ready to help if we needed him,” Snyder said. “I really thought we had at least one goalie, but that didn’t work out. I know I should have asked Tyler if he wanted to be the goalie, but I guess I basically told him.
” The response was typical Tyler.
“I just told him I would do it for the team,” Krychkowski said. “There was no one else around to step up and take over. I wanted to have a good season, so I decided to do it.”
With no formal goaltending training at all, Krychkowski donned the gloves, got a new uniform to wear and headed toward manning the goal.
“I worked hard with our goalie coach Mike Coughlin,” Krychkowski said. “I guess my athleticism helped me. I worked really hard with Mike to get ready to play.”
Krychkowski’s natural athletic ability carried him. After all, Krychkowski was a three-sport standout at North Arlington – a goal-scoring machine in soccer, a 1,000-point scorer in basketball and a track and field expert. It was a no-brainer the year he was selected as Observer Male Athlete of the Year.
“I didn’t have any doubts in myself handling it, because I worked so hard at it,” Krychkowski said. “The key was not making too many mistakes.”
“He really took to it,” Snyder said. “We just didn’t know if he could handle it, but after training a little, Tyler got better and better and felt pretty comfortable with it. He’s just a selfless kid. I just hoped that his athleticism and dedication would carry him.”
Snyder likes what Krychkowski has done in the new position.
“He’s a roaming goalie,” Snyder said. “He likes to come outside of the box and go after the ball. He can jump well and knows how to use his body.”
The results have been staggering. Krychkowski, thrust into a new position that he never played before, has become one of the best net minders in the New Jersey Athletic Conference.
Krychkowski collected a shutout in one of his first games as a goalie. In 11 games, he’s surrendered just 17 goals, a 1.44 goals against average, and he’s collected 68 saves.
His efforts have not gone unnoticed, as Krychkowski was named the NJAC Player of the Week, the league’s defensive player of the week and was honored by the ECAC as its Defensive Player of the Week. Krychkowski was also honored as the Disney Soccer/ NCAA Division III National Player of the Week.
Let’s go one step even further. In the Sept. 15 editions of Sports Illustrated, Krychkowski was featured as one of the prestigious magazine’s Faces in the Crowd.
Yes, the impromptu goalie getting national recognition. Not a bad gig at all.
“I was really nervous before the first game, but I got the shutout,” Krychkowski said. “Then, I realized I can be pretty good at this. I am definitely surprised by it. The defense has played very well in front of me. If the guys in front of me are playing hard, we have a good chance of not allowing a goal.” Krychkowski said that his experience as a field player has helped him as a collegiate soccer goalkeeper.
“Just knowing where the forward is playing has helped me in goal,” Krychkowski said. “I just reversed it all. I learned all the key words I have to say to my teammates. I’m still learning that. The athleticism I have definitely helps. I know where I have to be. I just know the game and I’ve learned a lot from my goalie coach. I know now I can be a goalie. The confidence level is high playing goalie. I just do what I have to do.”
Snyder said that he knew he had a winner when he told Tyler to change positions.
“Our whole team philosophy has changed in that we’re trying to defend more,” Snyder said. “Everyone on the team wants to defend. They knew what was good for our program. As soon as Mike and I made the decision to go with Tyler, we knew. Tyler just threw a pair of gloves on, had a few practices and was ready to go.”
Krychkowski had some tough moments in the last week, facing NJAC powers Montclair State and defending league champion Rutgers- Camden. But he’s still there, still in goal, still doing what’s best for the Gothic Knights.
“It is a little different,” Krychkowski said. “The attention and everything has started to settle down. I’m getting used to being in goal. I like where I am right now. It could have been far worse.”
But Krychkowski isn’t about to make playing goalkeeper a permanent slot.
“It’s definitely a one-year deal,” Krychkowski said. “Scoring goals, there’s no better feeling in the world. Okay, I won’t do it this year, but I will be back trying to score goals next year, no doubt.”
“I think it’s a testament to Tyler and the whole team,” Snyder said. “We are now going after good kids, good students. I know it can work.”
As long as Snyder finds diamonds in the rough like Tyler Krychkowski, a former goal scorer supreme now working his tail off to prevent goals from scoring. Such is life as a soccer player.