Last man standing: Cal goalkeeper Collin Travasos defends until the end

photo of Collin Travasos
Eliana Marcu/Senior Staff

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H
umans have a natural fight-or-flight response. They have to make split-second decisions when faced with any kind of threat: stay or run?
It’s hard to say which option one will choose, and it can be argued that the flight response is more beneficial if one is outnumbered, outranked or out-weaponed. No one steps into the line of fire without armor — right?

Wrong.

In soccer, there’s a special position in which a player is quite literally the last man standing, indefensible and unsheltered, an always-target for the striker’s strike and the kicker’s kick.

Right in the middle of the goal stands the equivalent of a human shield, who is the lone soldier responsible for keeping their side of the scoreboard empty. The goalkeeper is a position unlike any other: It’s a position in which perfection is required, flawlessness is expected, anxiety is natural and fear is commonplace.

A position in which Cal goalkeeper Collin Travasos thrives.

There’s this idea of “innate athleticism.” Some say that in order to be good at a sport, you have to be born with talent. Maybe a future professional athlete learns to kick a ball as soon as they manage to stand by themselves; maybe they tape posters of every known player on their walls; or maybe they become so obsessed with their sport that everything else becomes background noise.

“I’ve had a ball at my feet since birth,” Travasos said.

For the Cal keeper, being on a soccer field is like second nature. The young goalkeeper grew up with the sport and even inherited some of his talent through his family.

“My dad played college soccer; he coached college soccer; and he was the general manager of a professional women’s team, so I’ve played it since I was born,” Travasos said.

Travasos played everywhere on the field growing up, but the transition to his surefire position in goal was a fairly easy one simply because that was the position he was best at. Thriving in goal was normal for the keeper, and while many shied away from the position, Travasos quite literally jumped in goal at any given chance.

Being a goalkeeper is not always the most attractive position to aspiring soccer pros. Some choose to be midfielders, if running is their forte; perhaps defenders; or even a forward if you’ve got a powerful kick on you. But standing in the middle of two goal posts while you are, quite literally, the target of a speeding ball that can reach up to 70 miles per hour does not sound like the best of times to most.

“For all of its scary attributes, I love it,” Travasos said. “Goalkeeping is very precise; it is very yes or no; there is absolutely no grey area. As a goalkeeper, there is no not going 100%. Every 30 to 45 seconds, you are making a save, you have to go 100%. I love that.”

The goalkeeper began his professional journey in the not-so-gray area of goalkeeping during his junior year of high school. In his sophomore and junior years, the soccer aspect of Travasos’ life began picking up quite quickly. Between representing on the youth national team and visiting potential schools, the keeper’s athleticism was taking over every aspect of his life.

The extent to which the sport occupied Travasos’s time was amplified right after he committed to Cal, as he moved to Atlanta, Georgia to play for Atlanta United’s Academy during his senior year of high school.

The world of professional soccer became that much closer, as the keeper traveled across the country to get a taste of life outside of recreational high school athletics.

“Atlanta owns my rights, that’s partly why I moved there my senior year, but I would love to play professionally, that’s been the goal for sometime now,” Travasos said.

As his time in high school began to wind down, the world of Division I athletics came calling as Travasos joined the Bears, taking the keeper position on the Cal men’s soccer team.

“I redshirted fall 2019, when I committed during my junior year of high school,” Travasos said. “I knew I wasn’t going to see the field much as a freshman, but that was the plan.”

However, not many could keep the four-star recruit out of his position on the field for long, as the Cal keeper went from a total of zero minutes of playing time his first season to playing all 10 games during his breakout season in spring 2021.

Starting eight out of 10 games, Travasos went from barely stepping into the trenches to running straight into the line of fire.

It would not be out of the ordinary to assume that someone so obsessed with playing a sport would hate watching it, but Travasos breaks this mold.

“Soccer lulls me to sleep,” Travasos said. “ ‘But you’re the soccer guy!’ my friends say. If I want to take a nap, throw on some soccer, I will fall right to sleep.”

Perhaps it has something to do with seeing his fellow keepers in the professional leagues get scored on. No matter what team any goalkeeper identifies with, it seems as though keeper roots for keeper.

“Getting scored on is hard. Hard times,” Travasos said. “When you mess up with the ball or see someone fumble it, it hurts because I know what it feels like.”

There are some that describe goalkeeping as the “loneliest position on the field.” Being the last man standing does come with its unique challenges: For the ball to reach the end of the field and inch toward the goal, it has to have gone through 10 different players. Even so, the burden that lies on the shoulders of a goalkeeper is insurmountable — and there is no room for error.

The end of the field is Travasos’ responsibility, almost like a one-man show. The team sport of soccer begins to look a lot like an individual ballgame as soon as the opposing team crosses that 18-yard line.

“You wear a different colored jersey for a reason,” Travasos said.

There is no question what a goalkeeper’s role is as soon as the neon jersey and the protective gloves come on, and there is no other position to which such high pressure is associated. When it comes to the people on the field, the players up top have the players in the middle they can rely on, and the players in the middle always have the defenders in the back whom they can trust. When you’re a goalkeeper, there is no one behind you to save you.

The mental aspect that comes alongside the responsibility of owning that 18-yard box is enough to make the tough run scared and the brave turn away. The tension that floods the field when the ball begins to inch closer to the goalkeeper is enough to overwhelm the most seasoned soccer fan — unless you happen to be a certain someone who thrives in such a wrought up environment.
“I love it. I think that the best example would be a penalty kick,” Travasos said. “They are my favorite. A penalty shootout? Oh my goodness, I live for that. I live for the pressure.”

It’s almost as if the high stakes and intensity don’t bother him.

“It’s a fight for the ball. My part of the game is always one-on-one. I have to win it: There is no other option,” Travasos said.
If Travasos’ affinity for the “do-or-die” goalkeeper position is any indication, given the choice between fight or flight, the Cal keeper would definitely be inclined to choose the former. Maybe it’s because his position requires it, or maybe it’s because that’s just who he is: the last man standing –– who will defend, quite literally, to the very end.

Maria Khan covers football. Contact her at [email protected].