With its star keeper recovering from a concussion, the Baltimore Blast has called on backup goalkeeper Mike Zierhoffer to fill in as it passes the midway point of the Major Arena Soccer League season.
Zierhoffer could make his second start and third appearance of the season in Baltimore’s home game against the Harrisburg Heat Feb. 11 after nine-year veteran William Vanzela left the Blast’s Jan. 29 game against the Heat with a head injury.
During a play on the ball in the middle of the second quarter, Vanzela collided with Heat midfielder Malcolm Harris and was concussed when his head hit the ground. After being looked over by team trainers, Vanzela walked off the field under his own power but did not return.
In the short term, head coach David Bascome will continue to rely on Zierhoffer to make saves until Vanzela is healthy enough to return, the coach said. The Blast is currently 6-4-0, good for second place in the MASL’s East Division, and winners of two straight. Through nine games, Vanzela has saved 66.4 percent of the shots taken against him, allowing 5.44 goals per game.
Bascome said he was confident the 6-foot-5, 200-pound Zierhoffer was more than capable of filling in for Vanzela even if he made a few mistakes early on.
“I was very confident that he will just go just get the job done,” Bascome said of turning to Zierhoffer against the Heat Jan. 29. “And you’re going to make mistakes, as I tell all my players who are going to play for the first time. Mistakes will happen. But you’re only going to get better by playing in these games.”
Zierhoffer’s first thoughts after Vanzela was hurt were about his teammate’s health, he said, but Blast forward Jamie Thomas quickly grabbed a ball and started helping the keeper warm up, shouting “Focus!” when Zierhoffer would look over to see how his fellow keeper was doing.
“He got me going. And once the game starts, you get in the zone and let your preparation takeover,” he said. “It’s moments like this that you prepare for.”
The Blast was trailing 4-3 when Zierhoffer entered the game. The backup keeper shut out the Heat in the final two-plus periods, making six saves on the way to a 7-4 Blast win.
A week later with Vanzela still out, Zierhoffer made his first start of the season against Utica City Feb. 5. Zierhoffer played well again, notching 11 saves and a .846 save percentage in a game the Blast won 7-2.
The week of training leading up to the game wasn’t any different than any other week, Zierhoffer said.
“I’m preparing the same whether I’m the starter or not,” he said. “In this past week, I had a very similar feeling. The goal is to be the best version of yourself.”
The Blast enters its Feb. 11 game hoping to get another victory against the Heat. While some opponents may see his inexperience as a chance to attack him early, Zierhoffer said he takes confidence in opposing players not knowing his style or tendencies.
“They’re going be coming with their best regardless of who’s in goal, but from my perspective, I feel like in that moment, I can use that for myself where they haven’t seen me before in goal, so they don’t know what to expect,” Zierhoffer said. “I get a couple of days under my belt and you can start getting some doubt creeping in of how do we beat this guy?”
Zierhoffer has been Vanzela’s backup since signing with the Blast ahead of the 2018-19 season. He made two appearances that season, making a combined 33 saves and stopping 82 percent of shots for a 2.99 goals-against average. Zach Haussler, a St. Mary’s College graduate, will be Zierhoffer’s backup for however long Vanzela is out.
A graduate of Broadneck High School in Arnold, Zierhoffer played two years of varsity soccer for the Bruins and was named captain his senior year.
He went on to Clemson University where he started out playing club soccer for the Tigers, and moved on to the varsity team as a sophomore, playing three seasons from 2014-2017.
Off the field, Zierhoffer works full-time as a highway design engineer at RK&K, a civil engineering firm based in Baltimore. Now that he’s taken over the starting goalkeeper duties, Zierhoffer said his job helps him get mentally prepared for the high pressure of Blast games.
“Going back to work, I get to decompress from soccer and sit down and kind of rest my legs for a while,” he said. “And then going back to soccer, it’s a mental break from the actual work so it works as a really good balance for both.”
Photo Credit: Sabina Moran