‘Unorthodox’ keeper Joseph Kuta thrives this season while embracing the mental side of playing goalie
If UB men’s soccer head coach Stu Riddle had to describe junior goalkeeper Joseph Kuta in one word, it would be “unorthodox.”
“I don’t think you look at him and say he’s got all the natural quality traits of a goalkeeper,” Riddle said. “But he stops the ball from going into the net every time.”
So far this season, Kuta has done just that. Through four games, he has yet to allow a goal for the undefeated Buffalo Bulls. His four shutouts are the most of any goalie in the country so far this year. Kuta may seem to be an untraditional fit for UB between the pipes, but since taking over the starting goalie job from fellow junior goalkeeper Cameron Hogg midway through last season, he has been lights out. Behind his streak of clean sheets, Buffalo received 20 votes in the latest NCAA coaches Top 25 poll, the first time the program has received votes since 2005.
“[He’s unorthodox] as in not the textbook goalkeeping style, the sort of standard set procedure,” said assistant coach Matt Brown, a new hire this season tasked with working with Buffalo’s goalies. “The first time I worked with Joseph, I just said that is his style. It’s not your textbook head, hands and feet, it’s a little bit unorthodox but it is effective and it works.”
Kuta might also be the brains of the team. He is an economics major and holds a 3.936 GPA. What he lacks in physical prowess and traditional mechanics, he makes up for in preparation and mental fortitude.
“His positioning is very good, he does a really good job of narrowing the angle,” Riddle said. “He’s thinking about the positioning of the shape of the foot before the shot comes and he’s always two or three steps ahead of the game, which allows him to be in the right place to stop the ball from going in.”
So much of playing goalie is about being able to anticipate what your opponent is thinking and what their next move might be. Kuta knows that as long as he can stay calm and focused, he can analyze every situation as it comes at him in the game and be in the right place at the right time.
“Goalkeeping is not so much physically straining as it is mentally straining,” Kuta said. “And that’s something I work on in practice and for games.”
Before every game, Kuta has a bit of a routine. He calls his mom for a pep talk and then he reminds himself that the only way he will be able to think straight is if he can stay calm and keep a clear head. It’s all about continuing to build confidence, something that has been key to Kuta’s development.
“Coming in as a freshman I’d go into every game nervous,” Kuta said. “Playing against guys who are three or four years older than me, it was kinda scary going in there for the first time, but as time went on I started getting confident in my own abilities... and I just think over time I matured and grew and I’ve been better in a game environment.”
Kuta played his freshman year at Robert Morris University, but he felt it wasn’t the best environment for him to continue better himself in, so he decided to transfer. He had several friends who were playing at Buffalo at the time who helped convince him to transfer to UB, something he says has been one of the best decisions of his athletic career.
Kuta’s four-game shutout streak to open the season is the best in UB’s history. However, he prefers not to think about it at all. His success is all about keeping a clear head. As a goalkeeper, his calmness may be his defining attribute.
“The more you think about ‘oh I gotta keep this streak,’ the more you overthink it and that’s when you end up making a mistake,” Kuta said. “I like taking things as they come... if I keep the streak going great, if not, that’s life.”
If he does keep the streak going, it will only add to his a growing reputation as one of the best goalkeepers in the Mid-American Conference. And with the Bulls knocking on the door of national relevance, the rest of the country is about to be introduced to Buffalo’s secret weapon, something that should work wonders for Kuta’s next goal.
Kuta says after college he wants to play professionally, but he has yet to hear from any scouts or professional teams. It makes sense, he doesn’t jump out at you the first time you meet him or watch him play.
Right now, he’s not worried about the future. He knows that as long as he continues to stay focused and in the moment, the rest will fall into place.
After all, that’s what makes him so dangerous.