Interview with Dario Sala
A relative newcomer to MLS soccer, Dario Sala has long played top flight soccer in his native Argentina.
Currently starring in goal for FC Dallas, I had the occasion to speak with Sala regarding his career and his impressions of MLS, the USA, and modern goalkeeping in general.
--Interview by Eric Vaughter
Dario Sala exhibits superior concentration under stong challenges on this cross in a match between Fc Dalls and Houston Dynamo of MLS.
First, Dario—welcome and thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to speak with us. I wanted to ask, how has your experience in the US been so far and how are you enjoying playing in the MLS?
“My wife Margot and I really enjoy living here in Dallas. We enjoy the city, the Club, and soccer is very competitive here. I’ve just returned from watching a tournament here in Dallas featuring ‘the Legends of the World Cup.’ It’s a kind of ‘seniors’ soccer event and I have to say Argentina is doing very well. They should win the whole thing!” (Laughs)
Dario, how did you come to the MLS? I know you’ve been a pro since 1995—but what attracted you to America?
“Well, Margot is from Chicago, and of course we had visited the USA quite a lot during the off-season when I was playing in South America. Coach Bob Bradley offered me a try-out when he was coaching in New York; but at almost the same time, Newell’s Old Boys offered me a spot on their Copa Libertadores team—and as you know in South America the Copa Libertodores is a HUGE thing; and I felt that I could not pass up such an opportunity, so I signed with Newell’s. I of course kept in touch with Coach Bradley because I wanted to eventually come to the US to play. Then Dallas opened the door for me in 2005 and I must say that I am quite happy because Mr. Hunt (Owner) is putting the support behind FC Dallas and is putting things in place to create a championship team.”
Dario, share with our readers the differences—as you see them—in goalkeeping in Argentina, for example and the USA.
“First is the defense! In Argentina we always play with a ‘libero’—or sweeper—who always plays very deep to cut off the final pass. Obviously this makes things a bit easier for the Goalkeeper. In Argentina, you see many games that are 1-0, or 2-1. There aren’t that many opportunities to score—maybe 3 or 4 per game. Here, in the MLS, it seems like every attack almost scores! There are many more opportunities. Because of that, the GK needs to always be ready—because he is sometimes by himself! When we (FC Dallas) play a team like DC United, they are everywhere! They run all over the place, and it can be very difficult for the GK.
In Argentina, the Coaches want the GK to be more a part of the team. We have the GK, the Libero, the Center Midfielder, and the Forward—right down the middle—the ‘spine’ of the team. In that sense the GK is more involved. As you know, the rules from FIFA make it more and more difficult for the ‘Keeper—so he has to play very much ‘in tune’ with his defenders. Here in the US, I think sometimes GKs are considered ‘2nd Class citizens” (laughing)—not so much a part of the team. But I think the basic ingredient for GKing is the same everywhere in the world….you have to have a winning mentality. You have to believe that you can win the game—even if all you can do is give your team 1 point—you must have that confidence!”
You certainly have been playing well, and FC Dallas is doing very well, and that winning mentality that you speak of is evidently working:
“Yes, we already have played 12 games together, and the defenders are learning together. It is hard because we haven’t had the same group of defenders playing together twice yet this season, but we are working hard in training to learn each other and get used to each other.”
(Ed note: So far in the 2006 MLS season, Sala has led FC Dallas to the most consecutive “Wins’ in club history—7—as well as being the first foreign-born GK in club history.)
Dario, you have played professionally for 11 years, but an interesting thing is that you didn’t start playing in Goal until the age of 20. Is that right?
“Yes, I was a Team Handball Goalie in my youth and up until age 20. I was on the Argentina National Handball Team, and we were very successful. I come from sort of ‘family of GKs, my father was a ‘Keeper, my uncle was a ‘Keeper, and I have a cousin who is a GK. It is something that I have always been around. When I was helping my Dad (he was the owner of the concessions) at Belgrano of Cordoba Stadium, I would go in goal and bet the players that they couldn’t score on me. Not many did, and I made some good money (laughs). Over the course of some months, I guess some of the pro scouts saw me, and thought I had potential to play as a soccer Goalkeeper. They already knew that I was a Handball Goalie—so it made sense.
I was offered a spot at Belgrano of Cordoba, from there I went to the third biggest team in Argentina, San Lorenzo, and then I eventually ended up at Los Andes—a small club where I had the opportunity to always play and gain a lot of experience—and I had a great run there. I did not give up a goal for over 700 minutes (8 playoff games without a goal) and helped that team to a promotion from the B-League to Primera Division. (The first time in over 33 years!).
I was fortunate there, and was voted as the GK on the club’s All-Century team, as well as voted the Greatest Player in club History for Los Andes. After that, River bought me.”
In closing, Dario…what words would you have for a young, aspiring GK in the USA?
“Enjoy the game. Enjoy playing, enjoy your teammates, and enjoy the competition.
You know in Argentina, you can turn on the TV 24 hours a day and see soccer. You can watch a state championship game between 6 or 7 year olds! And that is great. But sometimes, I think we forget that the game was invented for fun, and as an enjoyable pastime. In most parts of the world, big clubs are scouting kids 10 years old and younger…and I fear that sometimes it takes away from the joy of playing. I’m 31 years old, and when the time comes to retire; I want to know that I enjoyed every minute I could when I was playing. Not just as a professional, but all the times I played. Just kicking the ball around is great. So, I would tell the young players….enjoy the game - it is beautiful.”
Speaking of the beautiful game, who do you think will win the World Cup?
“I have to say Argentina! But I think England has a really good chance to be champions, and of course Brazil is always very strong. But I think England might be the surprise team this summer. But of course, Argentina will win! (Laughter)
Eric Vaughter is currently the Goalkeeper coach for Vanderbilt University. In addition to his coaching duties at Vanderbilt, Vaughter works with Lipscomb University Goalkeepers as well.
Long acknowledged as one of the top GK Trainers in the USA, Vaughter has trained many professional GKs such as Mark Dodd, Aidan Heaney, Jon Busch, Troy Perkins, & Will Hesmer; to name a few. EV owns NETperformance GK Education Co., and serves as product development and marketing advisor to reusch USA. A new venture this year for Vaughter will be as Executive Director/Head Coach of Nashville Preparatory Soccer Academy—an inner-city soccer program helping youth players learn and excel at the Game.