When Stephen Paterson walks out onto the turf at the Independence Events Center Friday night to start his first game in goal for the Missouri Comets, there is a good bet B-52-sized butterflies will be buzzing around his stomach.
“I'm going to do my best to treat it like any other game,” said Paterson, 27, who will attempt to fill the shoes – and gloves – of Comets stalwart Danny Waltman.
Waltman, the veteran goalie who has started every game for the 12-0 Comets, was injured last Saturday when he suffered a high ankle sprain in the closing minutes of an 18-2 victory over visiting Tulsa.
“Man, I hate what happened to me so much I can't even begin to tell you,” Waltman said, as he took part in a treatment session at the SoccerDome, “but the only thing that makes it easier is seeing a young guy like Pato get the shot to play for the Comets.
“This is his break – well, I guess it's my 'break' – but he's going to make the most of it and get the opportunity to show everyone what he can do. I'm going to be front and center cheering for him and we all have confidence in him.
“We know he's going to get the job done.”
Paterson signed a one-year contract with the Comets Wednesday and was immediately added as the team's backup goalie. The Thunder Bay, Ontario, native will make his debut tonight when the Comets play host to cross-state rival St. Louis at 7 p.m.
Paterson was a key member of two conference tournament champions and appeared in two NCAA tournaments with Western Illinois. He played all four years from 2006-2009 and ended his career as the school's leader in career shutouts (23), setting a single-season record with an 0.76 goals against average in 2008.
After graduating, Paterson joined the Leathernecks coaching staff in 2010 as a student assistant coach and helped guide Leatherneck goalies to two All-Summit League selections and five Summit League Defensive Player of the Week honors.
He also played seven seasons with the Thunder Bay Chill in the United Soccer League's Premier Developmental League.
“Danny is a phenomenal person,” Paterson said. “He is an amazing leader on and off the field and he always knows what to do with the ball. Filling his shoes is not easy, but I am going to do everything possible to help the team get more wins.”
Paterson had spent time working out with Sporting Kansas City and the Comets, and happened to be at the right place at the right time.
“No one wants to see anyone get injured, especially a great player and team leader like Danny,” Paterson said, “but now's my chance to start in goal. I've worked hard, trained hard for a long time, hoping for this opportunity.
“The guys have really made it easier for me because they've been giving me so much support.”
One of his biggest supporters is all-star defender Brian Harris, who enters the locker room limping, and – looking in Waltman’s direction – saying, “It's about time we got a real goalie in here.”
Everyone cracked up.
“You want Stephen to feel comfortable, like he's a part of the team, because HE IS a part of the team – a big part,” Harris said, as he did everything possible to annoy Waltman during his rehab session. “We’re on a roll, and we're going to keep winning with Stephen in the net. No one knows for sure how long Danny is going to be out, so Stephen is going to be a big, big part of our success this season.”