At age 38, Sagu still sees more soccer in his future
Heading into the playoffs, longtime Blast goalkeeper says he's still learning, plans to play one more season
Blast goalkeeper Sagu turns 39 later this month, but he says he plans to play one more season. He leads the team into the Eastern Division finals against Rochester, which begin Saturday night at 7:35 at 1st Mariner Arena. (Gene Sweeney Jr., Baltimore Sun / March 2, 2012)
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1st Mariner Arena, University of Maryland-Baltimore, Baltimore, MD 21201, USA
After this postseason, the Blast's star goalkeeper plans to play one more year before stepping away for good.
Just 11 days shy of his 39th birthday, Sagu sounds sure of his decision. Then again, if his first retirement from professional soccer went as planned, he would probably be a police officer in his native Brazil, not the shot-stopping, YouTube-watching leader of a team playing in the MISL's Eastern Division finals starting Saturday.
"It's hard for you to stop," Sagu said, looking out as his teammates began training at 1st Mariner Arena on Tuesday morning. "Soccer players die twice."
Sagu thought he was entering his second life at age 25 when, feeling he was past his prime in Brazil, he decided to leave the sport to become a cop. But a week before he was to start at the police academy, he was asked join his country's national indoor team on an exhibition tour in the United States.
His play was so impressive that at least two American teams wanted to sign him, and he agreed to a contract with the Dallas Sidekicks.
Thirteen years later, the 6-foot, 215-pound Sagu has established himself as one of the best indoor soccer goalkeepers in the country.
After being traded to Baltimore in 2004, he's helped the Blast win three championships and twice been named the league's Goalkeeper of the Year. This season he led the MISL in wins (15-5) and points-against average (9.61), and he was second in the league in save percentage among qualifying keepers (.726).
"He's been one of the top goalkeepers in the league for as long as he's been in the league, and this year I think he's had an exceptional year," said Blast coach Danny Kelly, who's also a former teammate of Sagu's. "Experience in this game is huge. For any young player that's coming into this game, it takes a full season just to get a grip on it. And I think in the goalkeeper's position, it's even more true. Experience is vital — especially if you want to win playoff games."
Sagu, who has an 8-4 postseason record as a member of the Blast, says the playoffs are all about limiting mistakes. And that's where his attention to detail — and willingness to keep learning — is put to the greatest use.
"Every day I learn something," he said. "I've played goalie for 24 years professionally, and every single day when I step inside the field, I learn a new thing."
Thanks to technology that was unimaginable when he started playing the game at age 7, he also learns plenty when he gets home.
Sagu said he spends hours each week watching opponents' previous games on YouTube, scouting players' tendencies and committing to memory how and where they prefer to attack. He even occasionally has his wife help him out.
"It doesn't surprise me that he does that," said Blast backup keeper Akira Fitzgerald, a rookie who starred at Loyola and then played at Wake Forest. "It's one of the things that sets him apart from the other goalkeepers in this league. Everyone's a good shot-stopper, everyone's good with their feet. But that's one of those things where he loves this game a lot and he wants to succeed all the time. … It's good to see someone who's successful putting in the extra work."
Sagu has embraced working with Fitzgerald this season, as well as five other Blast players who are new to the indoor game. Kelly said he's seen more leadership from his keeper this year, which may also serve as training for Sagu.
When he does retire, Sagu plans to open a goalkeeper academy in Dallas, which he says is his way of giving back to the sport.
But that's a challenge for another day, and before he can fully dedicate his time to teaching, Sagu knows he's got a bit more learning to do.
"Every single year is different, and we learned a lot of things from last year," he said. "We lost the championship here in Baltimore, and I don't think we're going to make the same mistake this year."