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Hidden Caps: U.S. MNT Goalkeeper Ian Feuer

“I can’t complain,” LA Galaxy goalkeeper coach Ian Feuer says about a U.S. National Team career that lasted for a total of 20 minutes on the field against Morocco in 1992. “Look who was in front of me. Kasey Keller, Brad Friedel - they’re American soccer idols.”

Ian Feuer didn’t become an American soccer idol, but then again, no one expected him to be one. Though he might not have supplanted Friedel or Keller in the USA goal, he was a pioneer, playing professionally overseas before either of his better-known peers and boasting a neat footnote as the tallest goalkeeper to appear in England’s Premier League.

Not bad for a kid from Las Vegas who says he pursued soccer in a place no one else much cared about it because of what he calls a “rebellious streak.” After being introduced to soccer by a friend who got him playing AYSO at the age of eight, Feuer took to a sport ignored by the American mainstream but that he quickly learned was the most popular game in the world.

Watching the 1982 FIFA World Cup in Spain on television as an 11-year-old, Feuer says “something clicked,” and he decided to become a professional soccer player in a place where such an ambition was scoffed at. Feuer’s dream, far-fetched as it might have seemed to most people in Nevada, was supported by his parents.

Feuer’s parents sent him to attend a soccer camp in Alabama four years later, having read in Soccer America magazine that legendary West German goalkeeper Harold “Toni” Schumacher would be coaching the goalkeepers there. In Alabama, Feuer’s life took a dramatic turn.

The Las Vegan was tall - he grew to 6 feet, 6 inches - and his raw talent, unpolished by any professional coaching, was recognized immediately by his idol Schumacher. “Toni pulled me aside, and asked me if I’d ever thought of playing abroad,” Feuer recalls.

Of course he had, Feuer said. It was all he day-dreamed about.

“Well, you’re good enough,” Schumacher told him.

Armed with affirmation from his idol that he could pursue goalkeeping as a profession overseas, Feuer got the blessing from his parents he needed to head over to Europe, and at 16, signed with Club Brugge in Belgium. Feuer began as the third string goalkeeper on the club’s U-16 team, but within a year, had jumped past nearly a dozen players to become the third string goalkeeper on the senior team. He had turned professional.

“It was heaven for me,” Feuer says. Not even old enough to drive in Belgium, he cycled to practice on what he describes as “a rusty Mary Poppins bicycle with a bell on it,” his Walkman’s earbuds blasting music in the pouring rain, propping up his bike alongside the Mercedes and Audis his senior teammates arrived at the field in.

Without the benefit of European-levels of coaching in his youth, Feuer’s technique still needed to be polished, and he headed out on loan to Molenbeek in 1991 to gain experience as a starter.

It was then that Feuer started getting calls to the U.S. National Team, sitting on the bench multiple times before finally stepping on to the field for the first time on March 18, 1992.

The team was at the tail end of a long trip when it landed in Casablanca to play Morocco, with Feuer remarking that “everyone just wanted to go home.” Less than ideal conditions and an uninspired atmosphere provided the context for Feuer’s debut, as he came off the substitutes bench with 20 minutes left in the game to replace Mark Dodd in goal with the U.S. already 2-0 down, and he immediately conceded a goal in what turned out to be a 3-1 defeat.

“I was just like, ‘can I get my debut in another game?” Feuer says with a chuckle, before his tone turns serious. “But to be able to say you played for one second for your country is an honor.”

Though Feuer never played for the National Team again, he backed up Friedel at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona and then watched as Friedel and Keller dominated the next decade between the sticks.

Feuer, however, did go on to have a successful professional career in England.

In 1994, Feuer headed to England, signing with West Ham United. Harry Redknapp, then West Ham’s coach, sent Feuer out on loan to gain experience at second tier Luton. Feuer “fell in love” with the club and became a regular starter and a fan favorite, ultimately transferring permanently to Luton, even though Redknapp wanted him to remain at West Ham.

It wasn’t all roses. Luton’s training facilities were primitive, with the team practicing on a windswept, muddy rugby field. “God, what am I doing here,” Feuer remembers thinking at times. “But it toughens you up. If you can play in those conditions, you can play in anything.”

With MLS providing a fresh opportunity for Americans to play at home after its launch in 1996, Feuer returned to America in 1998 to sign for New England Revolution team. Feuer feels he took the brunt of criticism as one of the team’s bigger name players, and moved on to the Colorado Rapids after a difficult season. He found it difficult to settle in MLS and soon headed back to England, finally making his senior debut for West Ham United in 2000 and playing at numerous other clubs in short spells over the next couple of years, including Wimbledon, Derby County and Tranmere Rovers.

Feuer even trained with Arsenal for six weeks in 2003, and looked likely to be signed as England goalkeeper David Seaman’s understudy, only for what he calls “politics” with a powerful but dissatisfied former agent of his blocking the deal.

The Nevada-native retired soon after, and has since carved out a strong niche with his goalkeeping academy and on the LA Galaxy coaching staff.

The ups and downs of his playing career, Feuer feels, have only served to make him a better coach. “I understand how hard it is to make it, how hard you have to work,” he said. “I almost feel like I played to become a coach. All my down moments have made me a stronger person and a stronger coach.”

Feuer has ambitions to become a head coach - “I have all the tools,” he states - but wants to keep learning the trade, benefiting currently from assisting one of the best in the business, LA Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena.

For a kid from Vegas who grew up in a barren soccer state, being part of the professional game since he was 16 means a lot to Feuer.

“My goal was to be able to play one pro game in Europe,” he says. “I did it on my own, and I’m really proud of what I achieved.”