SAFC’s Viscosi took the road less traveled

New to San Antonio FC in 2019, goalkeeper Jonathan Viscosi brings more than just another pair of safe hands to the squad.

Like most soccer players, Jonathan Viscosi wants to play at the highest level possible. In particular, he considers playing in the top league wherever a player is from to be a big achievement, so Viscosi has been working throughout his career toward playing in MLS.

Unlike most soccer players, Viscosi has, by his own admission, taken a different route – multiple different routes at the same time, really. His journey started off normally enough, performing well at the club level in his native Canada then spending most of the next four years south of the border playing for different American colleges and USL Premier Development League teams.

His route began to diverge from the road more commonly taken in 2013 when he joined Tiverton Town in the English eighth tier. He was convinced playing consistently at lower levels would give him the experience and platform to work his way up, and that eventually proved true as he played with Chester and Southport in the Conference Premier, England’s fifth tier.

Viscosi said playing for those teams in England was quite a shock compared to what he was used to. In particular, the comforts of college soccer – good trainers, good pitches, pregame meals, etc – were gone and things were plainer.

“Because there’s a budget and you’re getting paid, they expect you to perform, no matter what,” Viscosi said, reflecting on the first big lesson he learned from his time in Europe.

The second phase of Viscosi’s European journey took him to Scandinavia, most notably two years at Finnish club Turun Palloseura (TPS) after a brief stint in Sweden. In 2017, TPS conceded just 14 goals over 27 matches in the Ykkönen, Finland’s second division, and Viscosi was named the best goalkeeper in the league that year as they were promoted. However, TPS struggled to keep up the next season in the first division, finished second-last in the Veikkausliiga and lost in the playoff final, sending them back down.

For his second big European lesson, both of those seasons at TPS taught Viscosi about the importance of fine margins. In 2017, they secured promotion on the last day of the season with a draw against the club nipping at their heels, while in 2018 they lost a playoff on away goals to seal their relegation.

“You only need to be one percent better than your opponent to get 100% of the prize,” Viscosi said, having been on both sides.

Credit: Henrik Siiskonen

Viscosi was going to play in Sweden again this year, but the club he was going to join had some financial troubles and his contract fell through the day before preseason started in January, leaving him without a club unexpectedly.

Unsure of where exactly to go next, Viscosi looked to the USL and the only person he knew in the league: Frank Barone, SAFC’s Athletic Development Coach. Barone told Viscosi that SAFC was looking for another goalkeeper, which led to talks with Head Coach Darren Powell and Director of Goalkeeping Juan Lamadrid, and all parties agreed it was a good idea.

“We know what we have with Matt (Cardone) and we felt Jonathan would be a good complement,” Powell said. “He’s worked his way through and that’s what’s impressive. He has that perseverance which I think is a wonderful quality to have as a person (and) as a player.”

While Viscosi was taking that winding and unconventional physical journey to where he is now, he also took steps to improve the mental side of his game. Viscosi believes a strong mentality is even more important for goalkeepers, both because of their in-game action and the unfortunate reality that sometimes they’re hardly getting a sniff of playing time if they’re not first-choice.

“I just realized that there’s more that I can do than just training my body and my craft,” Viscosi said. “The other thing is your mind, and for goalkeeping, it’s the biggest part. You can be the best goalkeeper in training but if you don’t have it mentally and you go into a game and can’t hold it together with the pressure, then you have no chance.”

Since he had graduated from college and had plenty of free time after practice as he started playing professionally, Viscosi began to study sports psychology extensively. He considers the mental side of the game to account for about 90% of what you need to practice, so he read every book he could find and now some techniques and methods are second nature to him.

Powell wasn’t aware of Viscosi’s devotion to the study when they decided to bring him in for the season, but after speaking with him a few more times he picked up on it.

“What I like about players is they’re always thinking and trying to learn,” Powell said. “When you see a growth mindset in players, which was something we identified in (Viscosi), you always gravitate towards those players because they want to get better every single day.”

Credit: Darren Abate

Viscosi shares his knowledge with teammates too but admits some of them haven’t thought much about the mental side of their game at all. One interaction in 2016 took the sharing of his knowledge to another level though.

As Viscosi spoke with teammates that year, they suggested he start a blog to share this information and his experiences with other people. Especially since he had been journaling for a few years already, Viscosi liked the idea and started his first blog post right there on the team bus. Now, he even includes “freelance writer” in his Twitter bio.

While he’s willing to share his knowledge, Viscosi knows not everybody can substantially benefit from or even wants to focus on improving the mental aspects of their game bit by bit.

“I wouldn’t push anybody who’s already a gifted player to go out and learn more, but if you feel like there’s something holding you back from being the best you can be, then I definitely would recommend that,” Viscosi said. “Leaving potential on the table is one of the biggest disappointments for yourself and other people, so I think (working on the mental side) is definitely a remedy to that.”

While Viscosi hasn’t posted anything new on his blog in over a year, he still writes what would effectively be new posts and sends them to other players he’s in contact with, and they’ve garnered positive feedback. He’s had a few ideas swirling around in his head this year, such as how to get the most out of training and take your chances when they come along.

Viscosi is all too familiar with having to make an impression in training rather than in actual matches right now. While he did get a clean sheet in a relatively straightforward US Open Cup match against Laredo Heat SC, Viscosi was also in goal for 1-0 and 4-2 losses against Austin Bold FC in the league and cup, respectively – and he even saved two penalties in that last match.

He also played most of a 1-0 friendly loss against Cardiff City FC on Saturday where he made a few of SAFC’s highlight-worthy saves. Viscosi was technically culpable for conceding the only goal as he failed to save a penalty kick he conceded, but that foul came from a bad backpass putting him in a tough position.

“The biggest thing I’ve learned is things aren’t always going to go how you expect and want them to go,” Viscosi said. “I’ve learned to embrace a challenge when it comes, enjoy it and find a way to use that to define who you really are. That’s what got me to Europe, that fight and embracing the challenge and proving my character in times when the odds were against me.”

Viscosi learned his work will pay off after a rough start in Europe yielded to three successful years there. You just have to do well at the things within your control and hope the things beyond your control fall into place.

Credit: Darren Abate

If you’re interested in hearing more about Viscosi’s journey and methods, you can read about them from the man himself on his aforementioned blog. Just a heads-up, Viscosi does use adult language on a couple of occasions.