This article appears in the August 19 gameday magazine. Click here to view the complete magazine.
Tally Hall sits at the back of the Dynamo formation, ten teammates in front of him, working together to make his job as easy as possible. Lately, Hall and his Dynamo mates have mostly made it look easy, earning six shutouts in their previous eight games. During the run of clean sheets Houston matched a club record with a five-game win streak in which they outscored opponents 13-1. The six-foot-four goalkeeper doesn’t mind a quiet night, as long as the Dynamo win.
“If I’m not making a lot of big saves, that is a good day at the office for me,” Hall said. “I have no problem staying in the shadows - I don’t need to be talked about. The attention that came with making the All-Star team in 2011 was nice to feel, but I really like going home and watching me not get scored on. I like watching the team not give up many shots, watching the team work hard and working together.”
The Dynamo were unbeaten in eight games before the loss at Red Bull Arena and went 734 minutes without allowing a goal in the run of play. After Philadelphia’s Keon Daniel scored in the 46th minute of a 2-1 Dynamo win on June 30, Houston allowed just one goal – Kei Kamara’s penalty kick on July 18 – and went seven games without allowing a goal in the run of play before the 2-0 defeat to the New York Red Bulls on August 10.
It was arguably Houston’s best defensive run since 2007, when the club set a still-standing MLS record by going 727 minutes without conceding a goal, recording eight consecutive shutouts in the process. Still, during the Dynamo’s great defensive run of 2012, Hall did not receive much attention outside of Houston. He did not make a single MLS Team of the Week despite helping Houston to a 6-0-2 record. Hall maintains a sense of humor about the fickle nature of accolades bestowed upon goalkeepers.
“It makes me chuckle at times,” Hall states. “If you look at my best saves this year, I think they have come from my mistakes, where I was either in a bad position, I didn’t come out for a cross, or I had given the ball away. Almost every one of my best saves has been direct results of my mistakes.”
One of the most important responsibilities for a goalkeeper is organizing the team in front of him, finding potential danger on the field and directing his defenders into the right areas. During Houston’s eight-game unbeaten run, Hall was at his best in directing the field players in front of him. Still, like the conductor of a group of messengers, he relies on his defenders to pass direction along to the midfielders and forwards. He credits veteran center back Bobby Boswell for his role in Houston’s defensive shape.
“Bobby does a lot of the organizing,” said Hall. “If I have to pass a message onto the midfield, he is the one to go to. He is the heart of the defensive unit, and he has a unique voice and you can hear him through a crowd. He uses that gift and it’s a big part of team shape.”
Like most goalkeepers, Hall had to watch from the bench as the backup before getting an opportunity to start. After two years as the backup with Esbjerg of Denmark, he joined the Dynamo in 2009 and sat behind Pat Onstad for two seasons before earning the starting job in 2011. Now, after starting a franchise record 58 consecutive regular season games, he compliments Dynamo goalkeeper coach Tim Hanley for playing a major role in his development. Hall was more familiar with the techniques used by Hanley after the Esbjerg coaching staff insisted Hall try to use Danish goalkeeping techniques.
“I was lucky to come back (to the U.S.) and work with Tim, who has been a big part of my growth as a goalkeeper,” the Washington native said. “He’s taken my attributes and made them better, and honing what will make me the best, instead of trying to teach me things that may not be the best style of play for me.”
Hanley brings a diverse resume to the training ground. He was a professional goalkeeper in Switzerland, Scotland and the North American Soccer League before turning to coaching, where he has more than 15 years of experience.
“He’s perhaps one of the best in the league at just standing up,” Hanley declares about Hall. “It’s sort of a lost art. Everyone wants to fly around and make great saves, but I ask (the goalkeepers) to stay there and not cheat, not dive out of the way. You force the forward to make a great goal. Eight out of ten shots are going to come around you, so if they put it in the corner, hats off to them.”
Hall added: “Anything Tim says is golden, he knows what he is talking about. He has been in the game so long, he has seen the transition from old school [goalkeeper] to new school, and he is trying to take the best of both worlds.
Hanley has guided Hall into historic territory, with ten shutouts this season, setting a career-high after recording six in 2011. With his next clean sheet, Hall will tie Onstad, the man he used to compete against for the starting job, who set a franchise record with 11 shutouts in 2007. Hall learned from Onstad in the two years he served as his backup and admired Onstad’s work ethic.
“It wasn’t a fluke that he played until the age that he did (age 43),” Hall said. “He did a lot of work, and I think that resonated with me. I looked at what he did to be good, not just watch him make saves.”
Hanley, who served as Onstad’s coach for seven years, praises Hall’s effort as the understudy chases the mentor’s record.
“We have a lot of games left, and he’s on par to do some great things, if we finish well, which we intend to do,” Hanley said. “He works hard, and I have to say that that is one of his qualities. I haven’t had a keeper in a long time that puts the time in on the field and off, in the weight room.”