SAN DIEGO — Driving a tank in combat as a member of the Israeli National Army, puts playing soccer into perspective. Stopping Branko Sagota's bullet left-footers almost seems easy.
Meet Kansas City Comet goalkeeper Manny Schwartz.
"What I did then was nothing special," said Schwartz, who served with the Israeli National Army from 1976-79. "I did what everybody did. My duty. Now, I've forgot about it."
He probably hasn't forgotten those times, but he has put them aside long enough to become one of the leading goalkeepers in the Major Indoor Soccer League.
On Wednesday night, Schwartz was the player most responsible for keeping the Comets close in their 4-3 overtime loss to the San Diego Sockers in game one of their MISL playoff series at the Sports Arena.
Schwartz made 23 saves on 41 shots Wednesday night.
"He was in a bloody world of his own," Socker Coach Ron Newman said. "I checked at halftime to see if they had plexiglass in the goal."
It's no wonder that Newman was one of the first people to congratulate Schwartz after Brian Quinn scored the winning goal in overtime on a shot that Schwartz seemed to have no chance to stop.
And even before hugging his own teammates, Socker goalkeeper Jim Gorsek raced the length of the field to hug his counterpart.
"Tonight he was just brilliant," said Hugo Perez, who scored one of the Socker goals. "If it hadn't been for him, we would have been scored seven goals."
Perez might have been conservative in his estimate.
"I feel good," said an exhausted Schwartz after Wednesday night's draining game. "I couldn't expect any more."
The past eight days have been like a whirlwind for the 26-year-old, who played for the 1976 Israeli Olympic Team and 1978 Israeli World Cup Team. A successful whirlwind of saves and close games.
Schwartz allowed just seven goals and made 45 saves in the Comets' two overtime victories over the St. Louis Steamers in the first round of the MISL playoffs. That win advanced the Comets to this series against the Sockers.
"Now, we're playing together as well as we have all season," Schwartz said. "All season long the defense played well, but nobody expected us to win so many."
During the regular season, the aggressive 6-foot 2-inch goalkeeper set a club record with 19 victories (19-16), 40 appearances and 2,191 minutes played.
The No. 4 goalkeeper in the MISL (4.16 goals against average) also was named his team's most valuable player, and was named MISL player of the week three times.
Not bad for a guy who was a backup goalkeeper in St. Louis for three seasons, and then played only four games with the Comets last season when he injured his shoulder.
In Wednesday night's game, Schwartz used his shoulders, feet, hands, head, legs and savvy to hold off a Socker team that tied an MISL regular-season record by scoring 302 goals.
The 1981-82 Arrow team, which also featured Steve Zungul, had the previous mark.
As expected, the Sockers dominated Wednesday night's game from the outset. They overmatched and outshot a team they defeated four straight times this year.
But they didn't dominate on the scoreboard.
In the first half, Schwartz made 13 saves on 26 shots. He made eight saves on 14 shots in the first quarter alone.
Kansas City had only 11 shots in the first half, yet because of Schwartz's acrobatics and quick foot saves, they trailed only 2-1 at half.
Three saves by Schwartz were especially memorable.
Schwartz dove to his left to trap a wicked right-footer by Jean Willrich from the top of the key. Moments later, he made a hand save on a liner that Kaz Deyna flicked from 10 feet to the left of the goal.
Seconds before the first half ended, Schwartz made a kick save on another left-footed blast by Segota.
As the game progressed, both Schwartz's confidence and his defense's effectiveness increased. The Comets tied the score at 2, and actually outshot the Sockers 9-5 in the third quarter.
The fourth-quarter highlight for Schwartz came when he stopped Zungul on a breakaway with slightly less than a minute gone in the quarter.
By that point, anything less than a great save by Schwartz would have been a surprise to the Sockers and the fans who were treated to a goalkeeping exhibition Wednesday night.