For a moment in the artificial half-light of Fort Lauderdale's Lockhart Stadium it is quiet. The evening air is heavy. An approaching storm, presaged by jagged streaks of lightning on the horizon, brings not sound but only the promise of it. Then there's a fat, dull thunk! as a soccer ball meets the instep of Tulsa Midfielder Adam Krupa's left foot. The ball rockets toward its target. An instant more and it will be home, hissing into the twine at the back of the goal.
A few yards away in the goalmouth, a figure flickers toward the ball, as fast as a snake's tongue. Krupa's ball is nearly into the goal when Jan van Beveren begins his leap to the right to cut it off. He hangs for a moment, his body parallel to the ground, and at the last instant his outstretched fingertips deflect the shot to the outside of the goalpost. Afterward he would recall the shot as a sort of "white bullet" and the sensation of trying to catch it in his hand.
Van Beveren will make a total of six saves the night of July 4 against the Tulsa Roughnecks, some of them equally stirring but none more important than this one, coming as it does with the score tied 2-2 and less than 10 minutes left in regulation time. The Fort Lauderdale Strikers, the team for which van Beveren toils in goal, finally will win 3-2 in the first overtime period, thereby extending their lead in the NASL's Southern Division race to 34 points. At week's end the Strikers were still 23 points ahead of second-place Tulsa. That margin was in no small part a consequence of van Beveren's extraordinary play.
There are a number of ways to take the measure of a goalkeeper, but listing his statistics isn't one of them. Last season, for instance, van Beveren finished with the NASL's second-best goals-against average (1.29), led the league in shutouts with nine, and finished second in saves with 195. He never denied that he'd had a good year, but he did repeatedly insist that his goals-against average wasn't a true indication of how well he had played. "When they go only by averages, it makes me sad," van Beveren said. "But what can you do about it? I tell people in this country that averages have nothing to do with how well a goalie is playing, and they look at me like I'm crazy."
While a goalkeeper's stats certainly aren't definitive proof of his skill, the numbers, taken together, can be revealing. That van Beveren's goals-against average, including a dreadful 7-1 loss last Saturday, had risen to 2.19, for instance, and that he led the NASL in saves, with 146, indicate, among other things, that he has been kept busier this season by the Strikers' inexperienced back line. Despite Fort Lauderdale's often porous defense, he has had three shutouts and is 11-4 in games decided by a single goal. Rather than citing statistics, however, it would be simpler in van Beveren's case to say that he has attained a level of the game at which his grasp has somehow exceeded his reach, instead of the other way around. After years as the top goalie in Holland, van Beveren is now one of the dominant players in the American game. Many of the NASL's top forwards have learned—as Krupa did—that when the Flying Dutchman is in goal, they can no longer shoot into any old port in a storm.
When van Beveren's goals-against average dropped him to ninth in the league rankings last month, the stat watchers began to mumble that perhaps at 34 he was slipping, that his reflexes were no longer what they once had been. "It amuses me to hear soccer aficionados around the league talk about van Beveren in the same breath as other goalies," says Ray Hudson, Fort Lauderdale's veteran English midfielder. "He's on a totally different planet. Forget about the statistics. The real sages around this league know that van Beveren is as far removed from the rest as Péle was when he played in the NASL. The man's phenomenal."
"You can't even compare him with the other keepers in this league," says Midfielder Vladislav Bogicevic of the Cosmos. "He's head and shoulders above everybody else."
The Cosmos got a rude reminder of just how far above when van Beveren shut off a Cosmos rally the first time the two teams met this season to preserve a 2-1 Fort Lauderdale victory. In that game the Cosmos' Giorgio Chinaglia, the most prolific goal scorer in NASL history, drilled a shot toward the Strikers' net from nearly point-blank range, only to have van Beveren kick the ball away at the last instant. For a split second, Chinaglia couldn't believe what he had seen. Then he took van Beveren's hand in his and shook it. "Great play," Giorgio said, and turned and trotted away.
"Van Beveren is a defense within himself," said Cosmos Coach Julio Mazzei later. "He proved again he's the best goalkeeper in our league."
By the sheer force of his presence, van Beveren is often able to change the shape and texture of a game. "When you have the best goalie in the league it gives you a great psychological advantage before the game even starts," says Fort Lauderdale Assistant Coach Bill Nuttall, himself a former NASL goalkeeper. "The players on the other team are already thinking that they have to hit a perfect shot to score because they know that Jan is going to routine any shot that's just good. You have to remember that the players may run up and down that field five or six times without even getting off a shot. So when they finally do take a good one and he makes a great save, it's bound to get them talking to themselves."
For someone who commands such respect, van Beveren isn't a particularly imposing physical specimen. In repose, he's almost brittle-looking, with prominent cheekbones highlighting his serene face. When he's in goal, however, van Beveren undergoes a startling transformation. His face becomes twisted with concentration, and his sharp, aquiline nose seems to become a gunsight. There's a regal quality in the way he strides across the goalmouth, shouting instructions to his defensemen. Van Beveren is 6'2" and 170 pounds, with a hard, lean body. But there are times when it seems there simply isn't enough of him to stop the booming rockets that are launched at him.
The goalmouth is 24' x 8', a 192-square-foot expanse, of which van Beveren can never hope to fill much more than 3% at a given moment. "If you're playing in the field and are having a bad game," he says, "it's possible to hide and leave the work up to the other 10 players. But if you're the goalie and you make a mistake, it's on the scoreboard immediately. Then you are alone."
Goalkeepers are nearly always alone. In a game played almost entirely with the feet, theirs is the one position in which the hands are paramount. Field players are in constant motion for 90 minutes, moving from one end of the field to the other, but the goalie almost never leaves his cage. Perhaps the biggest contradiction inherent in his task is that he must secretly hope that his defense will fail him enough to create a confrontation, because it's his ability to make the impossible stop that defines the goalkeeper's art. Unless the other team has at least a few worthwhile opportunities, all of the goalie's skills are for nothing. "A keeper is like an insurance policy," says Nuttall. "You hope you never have to use it, but when the time comes, you want to have the best one there is."
Van Beveren was regarded as one of the top goaltenders in the world—indeed, he had been named the 1980 Dutch Player of the Year—when he decided to leave Holland two years ago. His abrupt departure for the U.S. was the result of a long-simmering and publicly acrimonious feud with Dutch superstar Johan Cruyff. Cruyff, a striker, let it be known that if van Beveren played for Holland's National Team, he wouldn't, and in the end it was van Beveren who bailed out. "Not the coach, but Cruyff makes the decisions here, and that is not the way I like to operate," van Beveren said.
In 1980, after an aborted attempt to join a team in the South of France and a brief dalliance with the Cosmos, van Beveren was still looking around for a place to play. It was then that he got a call from his friend Cor van der Hart, at the time the Fort Lauderdale coach. The Strikers brought van Beveren and his wife, Petra, to Florida, gave them tickets for one of the team's games and then didn't call again for six days while van Beveren stewed in a hotel room. On the sixth day he phoned the Strikers' office and announced he was leaving on the next plane for Holland, a move that nudged the Fort Lauderdale ownership into contract discussions.
The principal owner of the Strikers is Elizabeth Robbie, whose husband, Joe, is best known as the owner of the Miami Dolphins of the NFL, and it was with him that van Beveren talked. It soon became apparent to van Beveren that the only things Robbie knew about soccer players were that they looked funny in helmets and shoulder pads but made good field-goal kickers. At one point early in their discussions, van Beveren said to Robbie, "With all due respect, how can you negotiate a contract with me? You don't know who I am."
The bargaining went on like that for six weeks. Van Beveren remembers standing on the terrace of Robbie's luxurious Miami apartment, wondering why the city had so many fires and musing that perhaps he'd arrived at the threshold of Hell. It wasn't until later that he learned that Miami was in the throes of the most convulsive racial rioting in the city's history, and that the American dream had its nightmarish aspects.
Van Beveren must have felt as if he were in the middle of another netherworld when he walked out onto the field of Lockhart Stadium for the first time in June of 1980. Van der Hart had lured him to Florida with tales of the Strikers' desperate need for a goalie. Van der Hart had conveniently neglected to mention that Fort Lauderdale already had a goalie, an American named Arnie Mausser, who was extremely popular with the local fans because he had the second-best goals-against average in the NASL. Van der Hart had virtually forced the Strikers to sign van Beveren by telling the press, "Give me van Beveren and we will go to the Soccer Bowl." Mausser's fans reacted skeptically and vociferously. "When I went on the field, the first thing I heard was, 'Boo, go home, we don't want you,' " van Beveren says. But that night he shut out the San Jose Earthquakes 4-0, and his popularity in Fort Lauderdale has been on the upswing ever since. Last season he was voted the most popular player on the team in a local newspaper poll.
Mausser was eventually traded to the New England (now Jacksonville) Tea Men, but he's still unhappy about the way he was treated by the Strikers and feels that what happened to him in Fort Lauderdale is symptomatic of a larger problem in the NASL. "They just brought this goalkeeper over from Holland and stuck him in the nets after I had played well," Mausser says. "I definitely feel the NASL is sometimes too eager to sign foreigners to play a position that an American already is doing well at. It's an attitude that works at the expense of the development of American players, and I don't think it helps fan recognition. People just don't relate to the foreign players as readily."
But there's a difference between a highly competent goaltender like Mausser and a truly superb one like van Beveren as the confrontations between the Strikers and Tea Men last season illustrated. Each game went into overtime—when the goalie's role becomes even more vital—and then into shootouts, the NASL's brand of sudden death. Fort Lauderdale won three of the shootouts, in which the goalie takes on five opposing shooters one-on-one. "No question about it," said Jacksonville Captain Ringo Cantillo. "Van Beveren is the best goalkeeper in the league." Fort Lauderdale Midfielder Thomas Rongen gives even higher praise. "He keeps us in games by stopping impossible balls," Rongen says. "Without him we would be at the bottom of the league right now."
Van Beveren tried not to take credit when the Strikers' defense got them into the semifinals of the playoffs last year, and this season, when the team went to an all-out offensive style and left itself vulnerable on defense, he didn't complain. "Last year was nice for me," he says, "as if a script was written. I made some nice saves and we won a few shootouts, so people were happy with me. This year I play the same, but because my goals-against average is higher everybody says, 'Oh, bad.' " Fort Lauderdale's first-year coach, Eckhard Krautzun, knew that the Strikers' new style of play would yield more goals, but he also knew that with van Beveren in the nets the damage would be kept to a minimum.
"I think his pride is sometimes hurt," Krautzun says, "but Jan plays for the team and he isn't bothered by the American way of measuring a goalie. Because we play so risky, it puts a lot of pressure on him, but he understands that American fans would rather see us win 5-4 than 1-0. He understands the American way of life." And van Beveren also understands one other thing. "An average team with a good goalie can be one of the top teams in the league," he says, "but a good team with a bad goalie will always do poorly."
Van Beveren has always been a good goalie, even from the time he began playing soccer with his 5-year-old brother, Wil, at the age of three. Both Jan and Wil were exceptional athletes, and they always received plenty of encouragement at home. One of the boys' grandfathers, Jan, for whom the younger Jan is named, was a Dutch cowboy with the Amsterdam circus—presumably he wore six-shooters and wooden boots—and the boys' father, W√ønand, represented Holland in the sprints at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, competing alongside Jesse Owens in the 200.
When Jan was 17 he took a train to Rotterdam to join his brother, who was playing there for Sparta in Holland's First Division. During Jan's first year with the club he practiced three times a day, taking thousands of balls in the nets, and his hard work paid off. At the age of 19 van Beveren became the youngest goalie ever on the National Team.
Later, when van Beveren was playing for PSV Eindhoven in 1970, he was elbowed in the face while diving for a ball. One of his front teeth was knocked out and he nearly bit off his tongue. It's a mark of his competitiveness and courage that he played the final 20 minutes of the first half with cotton wadded in his mouth to staunch the flow of blood and then had his tongue sewed back together at halftime so he could finish the game. "If I do something, I want to win," he says. "Even when I play games with my own kids I must win all the time. I know that's bad, but I can't help it. Sometimes I read about marathoners who have lost the race but are so determined to finish that they are still running after the lights in the stadium have been turned off. I can't understand that, because to win is a very big thing for me."
To stand still for more than a minute at a time is also a very big thing for van Beveren. He is a relentless nail-biter and unfiltered-cigarette smoker, drinks enormous quantities of coffee loaded with sugar and burns up so much nervous energy in the course of a day that even in the off-season his weight never rises. "When a team is traveling," van Beveren says, "you can always pick out the goalie because he's more nervous than the rest, a little more crazy." Once, during a delay at the Jacksonville airport, van Beveren crawled around on the floor chasing babies and then stood at a gate greeting arriving passengers by shaking each one's hand and saying, in what he believed to be a Midwestern accent, "Welcome to Chicago. There's nothing to do here." Sometimes he just stands in the middle of an airport concourse and pitches quarters high into the air, catching them on his broad forehead.
It is therefore not surprising that the most difficult of van Beveren's jobs isn't making the spectacular saves that are his stock in trade, but waiting for the opportunity to make them. "There's a lot of pressure," says Nuttall. "You stand there for 90 minutes and worry about the one ball you may not get." In 17 professional seasons, van Beveren hasn't gotten used to the lonely vigil. "We are in a position where we have to wait for what's coming at us," he says. "Sometimes I want to win and still I can't have any influence on the game. I have to wait until they do something. I want to run and work, but always I have to wait."
Between games, van Beveren shuts himself off almost completely from soccer, indulging his passion for collecting while trying to keep his head and his hands busy. When he was in Holland, he began his collecting with purchases of antique furniture, Oriental rugs and grandfather clocks, of which he still has nearly a dozen. As his collections grew more valuable, his life became more precarious. His home was burglarized twice in Holland, the second time by men wearing ski masks and toting machine guns. They rammed a stolen car through a wall to avoid setting off the alarm system wired to the windows and doors. "It was like Starsky and Hutch," he says. "In Holland our home had alarms and iron shutters that we closed at night to keep out the criminals. Finally I said, 'Enough.' It was like living in a bunker. You become a prisoner of your possessions." When van Beveren's first house in Fort Lauderdale was burglarized, too, he decided to move Petra and their sons, Raymond and Roger, into a more secure apartment building overlooking the ocean.
Van Beveren also enjoys doing jigsaw puzzles, particularly the extraordinarily difficult ones of as many as 5,000 pieces. Sometimes he will spend six or seven hours in a row in his living room, sitting beneath a print of Rembrandt's Night Watch, fitting the puzzles together. "The first time I did one," he says, "I didn't know where to start. So I spread the pieces out and just looked at it for a week. Once I start, I have to finish the puzzle even if I die at the table. The wonderful thing is that you feel you're creating something." When van Beveren completes a puzzle, he looks at it for a moment and then tears it apart.
Van Beveren also collects stamps, noodles on the piano and has taught himself to play the saxophone. Now he wants to run in a marathon, just to see if he can do it. "I'm a guy who wants to find out all the things in life by myself, without the influence of other people," he says.
As with any expatriate soccer player, van Beveren went through adjustments to the NASL game and the American life-style. "Valet parking!" he says incredulously. "We have never heard of such a thing in Holland. The people are very spoiled in this country. That's probably why I like it here so much."
Van Beveren and his family have become addicted to American sports, watching games on TV for hours. But he still hasn't figured out how it is possible for a team like the Oakland Raiders to desert one city for another. "In Holland," he says, "for a team from Amsterdam to move to Rotterdam, that's a civil war. That could never happen."
There have been other adjustments in his thinking, as well. "I love it here because I left my country with a positive attitude," van Beveren says. "The players from Europe who hate the cheerleaders, and the parking-lot barbecues, and the exploding scoreboards, and the Chicken—they will never make it here. What happens on the field with the Chicken and things—I don't see it anymore. Still, I would like to see the Chicken run onto the field in Holland and see if he survives."
Van Beveren has serious doubts about the progress of the game in the U.S. "I'm not sure soccer will make it here," he says. "Two years ago we played the Cosmos in Giants Stadium and there were 70,000 people. Last year we played there and drew only 40,000. When you ask what happened to the other 30,000 people, nobody can tell you. That's very strange."
Van Beveren retains his enthusiasm for the American game, however. "In the U.S. when you come up with an unexpected save—create something that has never been done before—the people go crazy," he says. "That's the thing I like, to be able to decide a game at those crucial moments. To make an impossible save—that's the moment you live for as a goalie. Then it doesn't matter how many people see the play, because you know that it's good."