Paul Rachubka - it is not the name the loud Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi was expected to chant. But it is the name one calls out when a deadly shot is unleashed on target by the opposition.
After three home games, the pre-season title favourites Kerala Blasters do not exactly look like contenders anymore. They have had several shortcomings with the most notable of them all being the deficit in goal scoring abilities.
Kerala Blasters have struggled to put their names on the score sheet so farthis season. The jinx was broken by the young Mark Sifneos during the Blasters' home match against the Mumbai City FC on Sunday.
But Kerala have always been associated with starting slow with few goals and accelerating towards the end of the tournament. At least their two successful seasons -2014 and 2016 went that way.
With every successful season in Kochi, comes new heroes. Once a hero in the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, then always a hero. The hero of this season for the Manjappada fans is not Dimitar Berbatov, as expected, but a goalkeeper who didn't see much success in Europe.
A Manchester United graduate, he tested waters in several clubs. He was not a highly rated goalkeeper and was a relatively unknown quantity to the outside world. When the Blasters fans heard the news that another Manchester United player was being signed, they quickly when to find out the best saves he had made in his career. What awaited the fans was horror. The internet was filled with videos of the blunders that Rachubka had had made during his short stint with Leeds United.
The fans were distraught. If one asked an average Blasters fan what his biggest worry was before the start of the season, he would say - goalkeeping.
But the season started with a home match against arch-rivals ATK, and Rachubka at the goal line. Some were worried at not seeing the familiar face of Sandip Nandy there either.
But as the game progressed, Rachubka went on to make some amazing world-class saves in an otherwise boring draw. It can be said that the reason the Blasters fished out a draw in their first home fixture was down to the goalkeeper making some good saves.
Come the next match and come the might of the Blasters attack, one thought. But once again, Kerala Blasters failed to impress the home crowd in yellow. Once again, it was the goalkeeper, Paul Rachubka who saved the match with his precise and timely saves.
Several mistakes of the defenders were nullified by some excellent goalkeeping. The Blasters fans were taken aback and have declared him a hero of the yellow.
The third home match saw the Blasters play with much more intent in their attack. They were determined to score and played attacking football. The home fans were finally rewarded with a goal.
The Blasters created so many chances in the first half that Mumbai City could not threaten the Kerala goalkeeper. The next half saw Rachubka make a few great saves and recover quickly from a ball that hit the post.
But it also saw the keeper concede for the first time in season 4. Having displayed several impossible saves, one expected Rachubka to save that one too. But it was not to be. Nonetheless, the Blaster keeper is already a fan-favourite amongst the Manjappada. To summarise, the player who was least expected to catch the eye, shone the brightest for the yellow crowd in Kerala.
ISL 2017 has seen the number of foreign players in the team sheet being restricted from six to five. Most of the teams have therefore entrusted Indian keepers with the job between the sticks.
Even in a scenario like that, Rachubka manages to seal his spot in the playing XI of Blasters through his charming display of saves. This will help the Blasters in the coming away matches to maintain clean sheets, which is the biggest telling sign of a team looking to win a tournament.Published 05 Dec 2017, 08:11 IST