By Rubin E. Grant
Annoyed, peeved, angered, irritated, ruffled or vexed.
Any of those adjectives is an apt description of Hoover junior soccer goalkeeper Max Rudolph’s reaction when an opponent scores a goal.
“He’s pretty tenacious about not letting the ball get to the back of the net,” Hoover soccer coach Kris Keplinger said. “If it does, it bothers him. He’s a fierce competitor.”
Rudolph has a reason for it vexing him.
“Every time you’re in goal, whether it’s at the end of a game or even at the beginning, you can be a hero or a zero,” Rudolph said. “If you make a save, even if the game is scoreless, then you’re a hero. But if you don’t, folks say, ‘Ahh, you lost the game.’”
The tension of being a hero or a zero is what drives Rudolph. “I like having that kind of pressure,” he said.
So far this season, Rudolph has thrived under the pressure as the Bucs have gotten off to a 13-1-3 start, heading into their 7 p.m. game Thursday at Vestavia Hills. He has recorded seven shutouts while allowing only 0.75 goals per game and averaging three saves per game.
In the championship game of the Metro Tournament last month against Oak Mountain, Rudolph was at his best. He made three saves in regulation that ended in a scoreless tie and saved two penalty kicks as Hoover prevailed 1-0 on kicks.
“When the game went into penalty kicks, I didn’t have a care in the world because Max was in goal,” Keplinger said. “He’s got great instincts on where the ball is going to go and he’s an unbelievable shot stopper.”
Rudolph demonstrated his impressive shot stopping ability while playing for the Alabama FC club team in the Elite Clubs National League event on New Year’s Eve in Sanford, Florida. He recorded 14 saves while preserving a 1-1 tie against 2017 National League champion BRYC Elite Academy from Fairfax, Virginia.
Keplinger said the 5-foot-10-inch Rudolph is perfectly suited to play goalkeeper.
“He’s extremely quick, kind of cat-like, and he has good hands,” Keplinger said. “And he’s the right size. He can get to balls in the air and he gets to the ground quick to make saves.”
Rudolph has been playing goalkeeper since he began playing the sport. He started out playing baseball and basketball, but he switched to soccer because his younger brother Igor was playing soccer. Igor Rudolph is a freshman at Hoover, playing for the freshman and junior varsity teams.
Once on the soccer field, Max Rudolph’s aggressiveness led to him becoming a goalkeeper. He was known for taking down an opponent when he came into the penalty area.
“When I was younger, I liked to tackle people, so they put me in goal,” Rudolph said. “I’ve always played physical. Even now, if somebody runs in to me, I’ll get physical. I feel that’s the best way I play. It gets my adrenalin going.”
Keplinger appreciates Rudolph’s toughness.
“Max is as tough as any player I’ve ever coached,” Keplinger said. “He’s a throwback and his work ethic is tremendous. He practices harder than he plays in games.”
Directing on-field strategy is another one of Rudolph’s strengths and so is making sure his head is always in the game.
“I think my focus is what makes me so successful,” he said. “In a game you might not get very many shots, but you have to stay focused because when you get a shot, if your mind is elsewhere and you miss that one shot, that’s the one that might get your team beat.”
When he’s not playing soccer, Rudolph enjoys scuba diving. He needs two more training dives to earn his diving certification. He was scheduled to do that on the weekend of the Metro Tournament, but the team came first after the Bucs reached the finals.
“My dad got certified and that’s something me and my brother decided we would like to do,” Rudolph said.
Rudolph eventually will get his diving certification, but right now he’s concentrating on helping the Bucs contend for a state championship.
“I want to try to keep my goals allowed to a minimum and win state,” Rudolph said. “Last year we had a team that we thought could win state and we lost in the first round. We want to go further this time.” ❖