Anton Nistl likes his beer, but when it's time to get serious, beer is furthest from his mind.
His passion isn't Miller-time but soccer-time.
Nistl is the goalie for Soccer America's 13th-ranked UCLA team, which opened its home season Tuesday with a 5-1 victory over Westmont. The 6-foot-1, 177-pound sophomore put his name in the Bruin record book last season with a O.53 goals-against-average in 2,030 minutes.
Nistl should have done more partying than punting last year. But Drew Leonard, the Bruins' slated starter, suffered a broken hand in the first exhibition and Nistl got the starting spot.
Leonard returned halfway through the season, but with Nistl in goal UCLA was undefeated, and Coach Sigi Schmid wasn't about to remove Nistl and upset his team.
"I want to win," Nistl says. "That's all there is to it. I don't go out there in double-day practices, 90-degree heat and smog just to show up and play and say I played here for four years. Winning is a lot more fun than losing, and when we step out there on the field at UCLA, we are there to win, not to show up."
Nistl says he is no perfectionist but quickly adds: "If you are going to do something, you do it right."
His ability and approach to the game carried him to the U. S. Olympic Festival in North Carolina last spring, and there Nistl refined his go-all-out attitude. Before his West team won a bronze medal, a coach took all the goalies aside, lined them up and kicked balls at them as hard as he could from two yards.
"He wanted to see what we would do," Nistl recalls. "He was trying to separate who was good. Some keepers go at the ball and others would back off and the guys who go at it are the guys who are going to play. Some of the guys weren't too keen on the idea. It was bizarre that somebody would do this."
Although flustered, the craziness of that drill didn't faze Nistl. He maintains that most normal people would shy from goalkeeper drills, most of which he calls "insane."
He may be right. Most normal people refuse to throw their bodies in front of moving objects. Most normal people don't dive into eight-foot pools from balconies 15 feet above, either. But Nistl often dives into the pool below his balcony. He and roommate Andy Burke, a senior defender for UCLA, sometimes barbecue with friends and conduct diving contests to their landlady's displeasure.
"Once in awhile," Nistl says, "you'll eat it and it hurts, but we still do it."
Pain? Nistl would be crazy if he craved it. But whether diving for water or soccer balls, he copes well with what is perhaps soccer's most punishing position.
"You don't have to enjoy pain when you're a goalkeeper," said Schmid, Nistl's coach, "but you have to be able to deal with pain because of the pounding your body takes."
"A lot of times you just have to sacrifice your body for the ball," adds Nistl. "You throw your body aimlessly and it hurts--but not for long."
The pain is the trade-off a goalkeeper pays to play. Leonard, Nistl's back-up, may never regain his starting role. The 6-foot-3, 179-pound senior from Palos Verdes says he was so frustrated after losing his job that he considered quitting. He was even questioning his future when training camp approached last month. But now, because he will never have another senior year and realizes Nistl might slump or be injured, Leonard remains on the team, anticipating another chance.
When he fractured his hand, Leonard, a former All-CIF goalkeeper at Palos Verdes High who holds a 0.90 g.a.a. in 793 minutes at UCLA, provided Nistl a direct path to stardom.
The two get along, Leonard says, "but we don't talk in practice. We're not in a friendly mode then. I want to win my job back and I could win it in practice, but I really want to do it in the games. I respect Anton's abilities--he's unbelievable--but we have a competitive relationship."
The competition wouldn't be as fierce, or as healthy, if Nistl weren't an aggressive athlete or an assertive person. Schmid calls him "ornery," saying he works hard but loves to complain.
"A superior athlete often has a slightly abrasive personality that sort of bothers people," Schmid says. "With Anton it's always meant in the sense of 'I want to win.' "
Nistl's personality forces him now and again to chew out teammates who make mistakes. Last week in an exhibition against Cal State Northridge, Nistl swore at Burke, his roommate, who had made a mistake. Nistl, a psychology major, says it was a productive, to-the-point reprimand.
"He had a great game, but he made a mistake and I told him and cussed as him," Nistl remembers. "He didn't like that, but once the game was over we came home and partied.
"Sometimes players are negative as hell on the field and it does no good. You can't stop and yell at each other while the game is on.
"But you have to say enough so that they don't do it again. At this level you have to do it. The people who yell can see things that maybe you didn't see."
The yelling is just another element in Nistl's vigorous approach toward Division I soccer. Getting angry, he says, makes an aggressive team successful.
"If you have a guy that nobody likes but you win with him, you go with him. You may all be the best of friends, but on the field it's business and you have to say or do whatever to get things done."
It's when things are done that Nistl and his teammates start laughing again, in the shower or at the pub.
Nistl grew up in Los Angeles, and he says that although the hustle and bustle get to him, he loves the city. He also loves Germany, or loves what he remembers. Nistl was born to parents of German and Austrian descent, and he traveled to Germany twice as a teen-ager to play soccer.
On his second visit, he said, "we all drank beer and learned what the culture was like."