As D.C. United Academy goalkeeper Dakota Niedermeier walked off the Robertson Stadium field Thursday, lugging the SUM U-17 Cup championship trophy, an opposing coach walked near him and offered his opinion on Niedermeier’s best save of the day.
Then a trainer chimed in with her opinion, and the debate was on. There were that many to choose from.
In hockey parlance, the 16-year-old Niedermeier stood on his head Thursday, lifting D.C. United to a 5-4 penalty kick victory over Real Salt Lake and the 2010 SUM U-17 Cup championship, its third in four years. In the process, Niedermeier made his mark on a national level, making at least four big saves in regulation and stopping a remarkable five consecutive penalty kicks in the shootout.
Oh, and he scored the game-winning penalty kick.
“Nothing comes close to that,” a grinning Niedermeier said afterward. “That was once in a lifetime.”
The save the RSL coach referenced came in the first half, a full-length dive to his right to tip a curling, left-footed shot around the far post. His trainer voted for a reflexive dive to his left to smother a quick one-timer and not allow a rebound. His resume in regulation also included a tip save of a long-range effort and a denial on a close-range lob.
But nothing compared to the shootout, when Niedermeier saved D.C. from elimination five consecutive plays, repeatedly drawing cries of amazement from the other U-17 teams watching in the stands.
“On the first four that I missed, those were mostly guesses – I couldn’t read them that much,” Niedermeier said. “The last four or five I saved, body language told me where they were going, so I went with it and followed my instinct.”
His instinct served him well, just as it did on his own penalty kick in the ninth round of the shootout, when he ignored the juvenile antics of Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Carson Elliot and calmly slotted the ball into the right side of the net, leaving Elliot motionless on his line.
That goal and yet another save on the next shot, gave D.C. United the title and made Niedermeier an easy choice for man of the match “10 times over,” to quote an opposing coach. For Niedermeier’s own coach, describing the effort was difficult.
“I can’t describe that; it was fantastic,” head coach Roberto Da Silva said. “It was crazy. I have no words to describe the performance and the intensity that he brought to the game.”
The 16-year-old Niedermeier said his performance in the tournament was motivated in part by a desire to pay tribute to the club’s nine 1993 birthdays, who will move up to the U-18 ranks next year. Niedermeier, a 1994 birthday, could remain with the club’s U-16 team, which he just joined last year.
It was the second shootout win of the tournament for Niedermeier, who beat Chicago 5-3 in the opening game of the tournament. He played 314 minutes in the tournament and allowed one goal – a 0.29 GAA – and won two shootouts, making a strong case (albeit after the fact) for the tournament’s Golden Gloves award, presented at the All-Star Game to Houston’s Fernando Piña, who played 225 minutes without allowing a goal. Teammate Yaw Amankwa, awarded the Golden Ball on Wednesday night, might have to pass the honor on to his goalkeeper.
“This is his first year with the club and the first of probably many more to come, I would hope,” Da Silva said. “It’s outstanding.”