As a junior, UC San Diego goalkeeper Josh Cohen anchored a defense that was No. 1 in the nation in goals-against average (0.44) and shutout percentage (0.71). The wiry 6-foot-1 Cohen posted seven shutouts while allowing a mere five goals in his 13 appearances. His efforts gained plenty of notice, as he was named the California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) Most Valuable Defensive Player and earned first-team All-West Region and second-team All-America accolades from Daktronics. His talents are certainly appreciated by Triton coach Jon Pascale. “Josh has incredible reflexes and is as good a shot-stopper as any goalkeeper in the country,” said the sixth-year head man. “He’s now a veteran keeper coming off a great season and I expect him to anchor a very strong defense for us this year.”
With fall training camp now in full swing and the start of the 2013 season less than two weeks away, the Sunnyvale native took time to share thoughts on his unique position, the team’s recent trek to Argentina and his hopes for the upcoming campaign.
Q: What’s a keeper’s biggest nightmare? Greatest accomplishment?
COHEN: In practice, my biggest nightmare is probably taking a close-range shot to the groin region, but in a game, it’s worth it to make the save. In general, a keeper’s greatest accomplishment would have to be making big saves to help his team win a big game or championship.
Q: What prompted you to become a goalkeeper? Did you play there from the beginning?
COHEN: I’m not sure exactly what prompted me to first play goalkeeper, but I seem to have always been drawn to the position. I’ve been playing goalkeeper officially since I was seven or eight years old, but my mom does have a photo of me trying to play goalkeeper at a youth class at age three or so.
Q: In your opinion, what’s the toughest aspect of the job? What was the hardest thing to learn?
COHEN: I think the toughest part of being a goalkeeper is the mental aspect. In a 90-minute game, there may only be two or three moments when I have to make a play, but each of those moments could be the difference between a win and a loss. The hardest thing to learn was how to shake off giving up a goal and move on to the rest of the game.
Q: Talk about some of the skills a keeper needs to have. Which do you consider the most important?
COHEN: As a goalkeeper, you have to be willing to throw your entire body at an oncoming forward knowing that there’s a good possibility of getting kicked or hit with the ball. It’s why goalkeepers have a reputation of being a little bit crazy.
Q: How much of it comes down to confidence?
COHEN: It really depends on the situation. Confidence helps a lot for free kicks, one-on-ones, and especially penalties, but other situations, such as shots in the run of play, you rely more on positioning and alertness.
Q: Is there a player you admire or have tried to emulate?
COHEN: I greatly admire Peter Schmeichel. He was the goalkeeper for Manchester United (and Denmark) from ’91 to ’99 and helped develop the position into what it is today.
Q: Through the media, you often hear that goalkeepers are a different breed. What is your relationship with your teammates like on and off the field?
COHEN: As a goalkeeper, I have definitely been called a little “crazy” a few times. On the practice field, I have somewhat of a competitive relationship with my teammates because I am pitted directly against them in shooting drills or free kick practice. Sometimes, the coaches will give the team two minutes to score 10 goals in a drill. At that point, it obviously becomes us goalkeepers’ job to not let this happen, causing some friendly rivalry. I feel that this competitive nature helps push all of us to get better.
Off the field, I regularly hang out with my teammates on the beach at Marine Street on a nice day, or at whoever’s house has cable when there is a big game on TV (soccer or otherwise).
Q: What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever seen happen involving a keeper?
COHEN: In Euro 2004, a match between Portugal and England went to penalty kicks to see who would go on to the semifinals. With the shootout tied, 5-5, the Portuguese goalkeeper, Ricardo, made a save and then decided to call off his teammate and take the next kick himself. He scored and won the game.
Q: The 2012 season was your first as the full-time starter in net for UCSD. It ended with the Tritons having the best goals-against average in the nation and you being named the CCAA Most Valuable Defensive Player. How did all of that happen, and was it surprising to you?
COHEN: The defensive success of the team was not a surprise to me. We spent many training sessions working on our defensive shape, attitude and cohesiveness. This, combined with the hard-working mentality of everyone on the field, led to the defensive success we saw as a team. The awards were a pleasant surprise, but I definitely didn’t do anything alone and I owe my teammates a big “thank you” for their help.
Q: The team recently went on an 11-day trip to Argentina. What were some of the soccer highlights? What was the most interesting thing you experienced outside of soccer?
COHEN: Just a few highlights of our trip included playing against professional teams, watching three first-division professional games, and getting to live at the Boca Juniors facilities and train with their coaches.
One of the days of the trip, we travelled via bus to a ranch outside of Buenos Aires. While there, we rode horses, ate a feast of steak and chicken, and enjoyed a traditional music/dance performance. There were many humorous moments on the trip, including Will Pleskow dancing tango with a restaurant performer in the Boca neighborhood and Jesse Brennan shuffling in various locations.
Q: How do you think that journey will impact the team during this fall’s season?
COHEN: I think the trip will have a positive impact. It allowed us to get a few trainings and games under our belt before the official start of preseason, and it really helped to build the team chemistry.
Q: Speaking of the 2013 season, what kind of scouting report can you give us on the Tritons?
COHEN: We are returning a lot of key players and have a lot of new talent coming into the program as well. We are looking to continue our reputation of a hard-working team that is very strong defensively, and develop into a fast-paced team that is dangerous on both sides of the ball. Coach Pascale likes to say that we are one of the deepest teams in the country, and we can use our depth and hard-working mentality to maintain a fast-paced, high level of play for the full 90 minutes.
Q: Argentina was not your first encounter with South America. At age 15, you spent three months alone in Brazil as part of a youth soccer academy. What was that like?
COHEN: It was actually surprisingly similar to my Argentina experience while living at the Boca facilities, minus having all my English-speaking teammates with me. At Gremio, I shared a 10x10-foot room with five other players and trained for three to five hours or more every day. I spent most of my free time playing Pro Evolution Soccer on the PS2 with the other players and ate all of my meals at a small cafeteria inside the stadium.
Q: You also have quite an interest in outdoor activities. Talk about some of the things you like to do in your free time.
COHEN: Outside of soccer, I really enjoy skiing and rock climbing. In the off-season, I compete as a freestyle skier for the UCSD ski and snowboard team. Recently, some of my roommates who are on the men’s water polo team have been teaching me how to surf.
Q: What’s one new outdoor challenge you’d like to undertake?
COHEN: I’m thinking of trying my luck at professional frolfing (frisbee golf). Kidding aside, I want to try backcountry skiing and alpine touring.
Q: You’re pursuing a bioengineering degree at UCSD with a minor in computer science. What led you to that and where do you hope it takes you?
COHEN: I have always been interested in designing and prototyping new things, and bioengineering at UCSD allows me to combine an interest in mechanical design with an interest in the workings of the human body. I also like computer science because it forces me to think in new ways. I eventually hope my degree path takes me to a point where I have the tools required to design and develop next-generation medical devices.
Q: What’s been the most interesting thing you’ve learned from your classwork in those subjects?
COHEN: In one of my lab classes, I learned the hard way that a dead bullfrog will still kick its leg when one of its nerves is touched. That one caught me by surprise.
Q: What do you believe will be the key to success for UCSD Men’s Soccer this fall?
COHEN: I think the main keys to success for us this fall are working hard and playing cohesively as a team. We compete in one of the toughest conferences in the country, and as such, a lot of our games come down to just being able to grind out a win after a hard-fought 90 minutes.
Previous Triton Q&A Features
Sara McCutchan (Women's Volleyball) August 9, 2013
Kellen Levy (Men's Cross Country/Track & Field) July 26, 2013
Izzy Pozurama (Women's Soccer) July 8, 2013
Colin Truex (Women's Crew Head Coach) June 28, 2013