CHICAGO, Ill. - Chris Toth thrives on pressure.
In fact, the more pressure the better as the veteran goalkeeper lives for those heart-stopping moments, particularly when he faces several dangerous shots when a game is on the line.
"I don't know how you want to call it,” Toth told ussoccer.com. “It could be the rush or zone but there's times in games where the storm comes, when the ball is going right to left. Just kind of shots are everywhere. That moment I live for, I train for.”
Toth has become accustomed to making big saves, whether it is for the Tacoma Stars in indoor soccer or for the U.S. Beach Soccer National Team. These days, the 31-year-old is more focused on the national side, which will compete 2021 Concacaf Beach Soccer Championship in Costa Rica starting on Monday, May 17.
That Toth can play at the highest levels is nothing short of a minor miracle because he has had two operations to fix a congenital heart problem. When he was born in 1989, Toth's aorta and pulmonary artery were reversed, and he wasn't getting oxygen to the heart.
Toth said that his mother "didn't even get to hold me," due to his condition.
There were options at the time to correct it. One was a new surgery, which would have enabled him to participate in sports and another that would have allowed Toth to have a normal life, but without sports. His parents decided to go with the first option.
During an annual check-up during his high school sophomore year, doctors discovered a problem with his pulmonary artery. They needed to do a second operation in which doctors would replace a piece of that artery with someone else's.
Eight doctors told Toth that he could not play on the field anymore, but four said he could perform in goal.
"It was kind of nerve wracking more so about not being able to play soccer anymore," he said.
So, Toth made the switch to goal.
"There was a challenge from the start," he said. "I know I'm not going to be the number one on a long distance run but I never want to use it as an excuse.
"There's some things I'm not really supposed to be doing. But (playing) goalie I am able to do, and when the doctors told me that I can play goalie my full attention went to the position. And I pushed it 100 percent. I just wanted to be the best, best goalie I can be."
So, he has been able to continue a family tradition that goes back a few generations.
If the Toth name ring a bell, especially for indoor soccer fans, it should be.
Goalkeeping is essentially the Toth family business.
Chris' grandfather Gyorgy Toth, guarded the net for Újpest FC and played for the Hungarian national team.
His father Zoltan, who also was capped in Hungary, starred for the New York Arrows and San Diego Sockers in the Major Indoor Soccer League. Zoltan's mother was a handball goalkeeper.
“That is incredible with what they've done," Chris said. "It's awesome and I've always felt the pressure stepping on and being a pro when I started with San Diego [Sockers] just because of what my name is."
Zoltan, nicknamed “Zollie the Goalie,” backstopped the Sockers to five MISL championships, after winning two titles with the Arrows. He also was named MISL goalkeeper of the decade (1980s) and earned league MVP honors one season. He is an Indoor Soccer Hall of Fame inductee and had his number retired by the Sockers.
"There were always these big shoes, but I always looked forward into trying to fill those shoes and represent not his name but also finding and creating something on my own," Chris said. "Then hopefully in the future, pass that on. Keep it going."
Chris has cast his own shadow as a top keeper in the Major Arena Soccer League, most recently with the Tacoma Stars. He has been named MASL goalkeeper of the year three times.
Not surprisingly, Zoltan, of course, is biased, when he has talked about his son. It certainly hasn't hurt that Chris has been trained by a master goalkeeper.
"Right away he wanted to be a goalie because he saw daddy in the goal," Zoltan said last year. "He put on the gloves. He got all of the technique, all of the training. His ball handling is flawless. He has two hands on the ball, catching it. His feet work is very good. He understands how to play. So, it's all about the evolution of the goalkeeper from a baby to 30-years-old.”
USA forward Nick Perera admitted that he was biased when he talks about his teammate and good friend, claiming that Toth was one of the top three beach soccer goalkeepers in the world. In fact, Toth has three times been named among the Top 50 Beach Soccer players in the world.
"He's probably the most athletically and technically dominant goalkeeper I've seen in my entire career," Perera said. "He's a huge part [of the team]. Our goalkeeper’s involvement is paramount. Everything goes to that player. So, that's a huge, huge strength of ours."
Perera, the Stars player-coach, knew Toth was good, but didn't realize how high a level he was until they trained together.
"You just take it for granted that all goalkeepers work like that, and all keepers move like that," he said. "Most keepers can't do the things he does. He's explosive, he's quick, fast and strong, but technically he's like another field player. You put together the combination of just pure raw athleticism, strength, power, precision. Now you add the technical game and the fact he's been playing professionally since 2008. You're starting to see a player that's at the top at the top of his craft."
The 6-1, 170-lb. Toth, who felt he was at the top of his game, wants another crack at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup. But first things first - qualifying.
In the group stage, the USA meets the Turks and Caicos Islands on Monday, Trinidad & Tobago on Tuesday, May 18 and host Costa Rica on Wednesday, May 19. The top two team teams in each of the three groups and the two best third-place finishers advance to the quarterfinals. Both semifinal winners qualify for the world championship.
Toth, who competed in the 2013 and 2019 Beach Soccer World Cup, was optimistic the USA can return to this year's FIFA event in Russia from Aug. 19-29.
"The results didn't come but I thought we were prepared," he said of Paraguay 2019. "The World Cup is hard but it's harder to get to the World Cup. Being in the World Cup is like a whole other beast. You're going against some of the top players in the world ... the top teams in the world."
His father just might want a little more, such as a fourth generation of Toth goalkeepers.
Last year Zoltan quipped: "I can't wait having grandchildren. That would be a nice generation."
When told about his father's comments, Chris replied with a laugh: "Yeah, well, he tells me that every now and then but we're not quite there yet."
At the moment, Chris Toth is focused on getting the USA back to the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup.