‘Written off by some,’ goalkeeper Ryan Coulter now in a great spot with Forward Madison FC

May 3, 2019

Playing in the top division of professional soccer in his home country should have been a career highlight for Ryan Coulter.

Instead, his stint with Sligo Rovers in the League of Ireland Premier Division in 2015 turned out to be a challenging time when the goalkeeper started to question whether he wanted to continue his playing career.

In the end, his conviction won out, and Forward Madison FC is now happy for it.

“I know I’ve been written off by some people,” Coulter said. “Some people support me. The one thing I’ve said to myself over the last couple of years is if I’ve stopped believing, why would anyone else believe in me?”

That faith through a series of uncertainties has brought Coulter into a setting with Forward Madison that he said has put him in a better position in the game than ever before.

Coulter, 30, was hired for the team’s inaugural season as a player and goalkeeping coach, a rare combination that demands an extra level of commitment. And his play in his first three appearances, the most recent one a shutout, has demonstrated that there’s a lot left for Coulter to give inside the lines.

“To get in here and to be playing well has been an unbelievable feeling,” he said. “Because not only have I got back being a pro again, I’m now a professional goalkeeper coach, too. There’s a lot of people at home that would bite your hand off to be in this position.

“I know that I’m in a really, really good spot now. To be here, to be playing and to be playing well is something that I couldn’t in my wildest dreams have really foreseen it going as well as it is so far.”

Coulter and the Flamingos (1-2-1) host Toronto FC II (2-0-1) in a USL League One match at Breese Stevens Field at 7 p.m. Saturday.

If not for a preseason injury to goalkeeper Brian Sylvestre, Coulter might not have had the opportunity to star for Forward Madison early in the season.

After Minnesota United loan Dayne St. Clair played in the season-opening, 1-0 loss at Chattanooga Red Wolves SC, Coulter made five saves but conceded a 95th-minute goal on a penalty kick to lose 1-0 at North Texas SC the following week.

He earned a spot on the USL1 team of the week for making six saves in a 2-1 victory at Orlando City B on April 20. One of them was the league’s save of the week, a diving stop off a free kick to preserve the lead in the 80th minute.

And Coulter stopped all four shots that reached him in a scoreless draw with Greenville Triumph SC in last Saturday’s snowy home opener.

“We knew he was good, but he’s been thrust into it and he’s doing a great job of handling both,” FMFC coach Daryl Shore said.

The Flamingos have scored only two goals through four games, so strong play from the defense and quality in goal has been essential.

Coulter has managed the latter while also managing practices with fellow goalkeepers Sylvestre, Brandon Barnes and St. Clair, when he’s with the team. Coulter became licensed as a goalkeeping coach through European governing body UEFA as he considered life after his playing career in recent years.

He doesn’t get coaching during the training sessions, so he records them and watches later to scrutinize his performance.

Shore, who has been both a goalkeeping coach and a player-coach in his career, said it “takes a unique type of personality” to do both sides well. Coulter needs to have a calming demeanor when working with goalkeepers but more of a fiery one when dictating play from defenders during games.

“It’s easier to do that when you back it up with the play that he’s had so far,” Shore said.

After a rough year at Sligo Rovers, Coulter bounced between a few other Irish teams before returning to the U.S., where he earlier played college soccer for San Diego and East Tennessee State.

He endured the worries around finding a pro club and securing a green card to live and work in the U.S. With both in hand, however, he’s enjoying the experience.

“Having the opportunity to come here,” Coulter said, “quite honestly, I’m happier now than I’ve ever been.”

From the infirmary

Two defenders will be game-time decisions Saturday because of injury, Shore said. Christian Díaz suffered a groin injury early in the second half last Saturday. Shaun Russell, who earned a spot on USL1’s team of the week for his play against Greenville, was injured in training Thursday.

The Flamingos will get one defender back, however: Wyatt Omsberg is due to return to the lineup after missing last week’s game with a foot injury.

Midfielder Danny Tenorio remains out after having a torn meniscus surgically repaired in March.