After starting seven games for the Ohio State men’s soccer team last season, a confident redshirt-junior Alex Ivanov is having a solid season as goalkeeper for the Buckeyes — but it could just be because of his good luck charm.
As a child, playing in goal wasn’t always his preferred position, but his instincts led him to the position he would grow to love.
“When I was in the seventh grade, they threw me in the goal because I was the only kid who wanted to dive for the ball and they kind of just kept me in there,” Ivanov said.
Last season, Ivanov had the chance to play with current Columbus Crew and former Buckeye goalkeeper Matt Lampson. Lampson posted a 0.86 goals-against average during his career at OSU and produced the second most shutouts in OSU men’s soccer history.
Buckeye assistant coach Taly Goode works primarily with goalkeepers and said Ivanov learned how to build good habits from Lampson, which has helped his progression this year.
Goode also said more playing time this year has led to an improvement for Ivanov.
“Last year, one of the big things that (Ivanov) needed was games,” Goode said. “I think with goalkeepers, that game experience, it helped him mature and helped him build confidence in himself and then the teammates build confidence in him.”
Ivanov is also building a stronger relationship with his teammates, Goode said. The players voted Ivanov as the most improved in the fall.
Senior defender Sage Gardner said knowing Ivanov is behind him is a “breath of fresh air” and said the goalkeeper’s leadership and confidence has helped the team.
“It’s nice to know that you have someone back there who is always going to cover you,” Gardner said. “The leadership and organization back there from him has been good for the team.”
Currently, Ivanov is leading the Big Ten Conference in total saves with 55, 19 more than second place Michigan redshirt-junior goalkeeper Adam Grinwis. He also has three shutouts for the team this year.
Daily improvements from practice are a focus for the Buckeye goalkeeper.
“I’m always looking for stuff that I do in games that I need to improve on and I try and get something out of practice every day,” he said. “I think that will spread to all of the defenders and we will all get better as a unit as the season progresses.”
Ivanov attributes most of his success to the team’s defense but also to his grandfather’s necklace, which he wears every night before a game.
“I have this little good-luck charm that I wear, it’s my grandpa’s necklace that I got,” he said. “It’s like this golden nugget and I have to wear it every night before I go to sleep before a game.”
One of the biggest improvements in Ivanov’s game this year has been his confidence. Coach John Bluem said Ivanov believes in himself more than last year and that comes from support of those around him, but also that he has a greater belief in his own abilities.
Bluem also said having a more than capable backup in junior Andrian McAdams has helped Ivanov this year.
“Andrian trains really hard and really pushes himself in training and that makes (Ivanov) push himself as well,” he said. “(Ivanov) knows if he slips up and has a few bad games that we’re probably going to give McAdams a chance. That kind of pressure and that kind of somebody in training that works hard helps keep you ready.”
Earlier this season, in a match against Wright State, Ivanov was shown a red card for an intentional handball outside of the box, forcing him to miss the following match versus Dayton and giving McAdams the start.
Bluem said instead of getting down on himself, Ivanov helped the backup goalkeeper prepare for the game.
“He handled it well. He was at training and working hard like always, but now his role on the team is a little different,” Bluem said, “but his role for himself never changes. He comes and he gives 100 percent of himself to the team and he encouraged Andrian and helped Andrian get prepared so we were able to handle the goalkeeping duties successfully.”
This kind of effort and care for the team has led Bluem to look at Ivanov as a leader of the team.
“He is a leader,” Bluem said. “This is his fourth year here now and the other day at Akron when they scored the early goal against us, he’s the guy who called the players in and calmed everybody down and got the guys moving forward again.”
Ivanov and the Buckeyes have an overall record of 2-5-2, 0-1-0 in conference. The team is scheduled to host No. 18 Louisville Wednesday at 7 p.m., before rival Michigan comes to town Sunday.