VANCOUVER — A decade ago, when David Ousted first joined the Danish soccer club SønderjyskE, the young goalkeeper had a mentor named Henrik Ipsen — not to be confused with Henrik Ibsen, the 19th-century Norwegian playwright.
Ipsen, who was then SønderjyskE’s starting goalkeeper, was 34 years old and already, in Ousted’s words, “on the backburner of his career” — which naturally meant he’d accumulated some tricks of the trade worth sharing.
“He meant a lot to me in the sense that he kind of showed me the ropes and showed me what it meant to be a real professional,” said the Vancouver Whitecaps’ No. 1 on Saturday, “but also kind of showed me the nitty gritty of his technique.”
Ousted would eventually usurp Ipsen’s role as the starting ’keeper for SønderjyskE, but competition, according to Ousted, is a natural part of any goalkeeper’s life.
On Friday, the Vancouver Whitecaps signed Stefan Marinovic, a 25-year-old ’keeper from New Zealand who has played for German 3. Liga side SpVgg Unterhaching since 2014. Marinovic will provide depth behind Ousted — former backup Paolo Tornaghi was released this week to return to Italy — but, crucially, he’s signed through 2018, with club options for 2019 and 2020.
“You obviously want good players on your squad and you want good players at every position,” said Ousted, whose contract with Vancouver expires at the end of the year. “Competition for places is a big part of what makes a good team, so I think it’s healthy to get that competition here.”
Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson has noted that Marinovic, who has already joined the team but isn’t yet eligible to play, was brought on with the aim of increasing competition within the group.
“We needed to find someone who was able to compete with David and bring on the young ones as well,” he told WhitecapsFC.com, “and Stefan certainly fits that bill.”
While Ousted declined to speak about his potential future in Vancouver or elsewhere, the 32-year-old insisted that being in a contract year doesn’t affect the way he plays.
“I’m always motivated no matter what year I’m in,” he said.
He would say, though, that he welcomes the ability to provide for other players what Ipsen did for him.
“I think goalkeepers are different. We’re more normal, I normally say,” he said, smiling. “It’s kind of a sense that you’re obviously competing against each other, but you’ll see a lot of goalkeepers helping each other out during sessions, because it’s about pushing each other to get better. And I think all four that we have now are interested in becoming better and pushing each other, and that’s a big part of it — I think that’s that goalkeeper-union mentality.”
On Saturday, as the Whitecaps’ training session was winding down, Ousted stood and watched Spencer Richey and Sean Melvin, the club’s two up-and-coming goalkeepers, both of whom are currently playing for USL affiliate Whitecaps FC 2. The Danish veteran was giving his teammates pointers — offering little bits of advice but also encouragement, with a “Nice!” here and a “Yes! Yes! Yes!” there.
“If they want to listen to me, that’s great,” Ousted said. “You kind of need to know to steal from everybody around here. If you can steal a little bit from everybody you work with, that makes you better. So I told the guys, ‘Steal as much as you can.’”
While Ousted’s best season came in 2015, he’s managed to produce some breathtaking, highlight-reel saves in the seasons since –
including a stunning goal-line save in the 51st minute of the Whitecaps’ win versus the L.A. Galaxy on Wednesday, when Ousted earned his fourth clean sheet of the season.
“It was one of those games where you feel like you’re in the zone,” he said. “You’re moving your feet well and you’re just in the game the entire time, and that one’s just, it goes down to slow motion and you feel like you’ve got that save every inch of the way. Honestly it’s one of those reactions where you don’t get a lot of time to think but you just kind of do it, and then afterwards look back on it and think, ‘Yeah, that’s a nice save.’”
Ousted will get the opportunity to earn back-to-back clean sheets when the Whitecaps host the Portland Timbers on Sunday.
Any Cascadia Cup match is an opportunity to earn bragging rights in the teams’ rivalry, but Sunday’s game also brings the opportunity for crucial points in a tightly bunched Western Conference — the ‘Caps are currently tied for fourth place with the Timbers and the Seattle Sounders.
That the Timbers are a badly thinned-out squad — missing players to injury and international duty — should help Vancouver, though Ousted maintained that a depleted group will still be a threat.
“Those games have kind of their own life, and you can’t expect Portland to come and just lay down,” he said, sounding as though he was offering a rallying cry to his teammates. “I think they’re gonna be very much up for this game. They’re gonna be really interested in coming and making life hard for us, so it’s one of those tough games where you need to perform at 100 per cent if you’re gonna win.”