Comedian Dane Cook has a popular joke about the board game Monopoly — it always ends with profanity-laced rants and playing pieces thrown across the room.
When Minnesota United FC goalkeeper Mitch Hildebrandt plays The Settlers of Catan with his roommate, midfielder Michael Reed, that joke becomes all too real.
“He gets so close to winning,” Reed said. “And almost after every game … he just starts cussing his mouth off.”
Hildebrandt said he was told even back in elementary school that he was too competitive, but he just hates losing.
“I get to the point where I want to flip the board over because he always wins,” Hildebrandt said.
While that aggressive streak may go overboard during a no-stakes pastime, Hildebrandt’s need to be the best has served him well in his soccer career. The 25-year-old has recently won the starting position over Matt VanOekel after largely serving as the veteran’s backup in his first two seasons with the Loons.
VanOekel was injured May 24 against the Carolina RailHawks. Now fully recovered, he hasn’t played except for appearances as a substitute in July exhibition games against the under-21 Mexican national team and Swansea City.
United coach Manny Lagos said both Hildebrandt and VanOekel are No. 1 goalkeepers, and that the starting choice just depends on who’s playing better. Since the Carolina game with Hildebrandt playing, United is 7-1-2.
“Competition is … always tough on any player, particularly goalies, though, because you’re only competing for one spot,” Lagos said. “Some of the guys are competing for maybe several spots on the field when you’re a field player. My heart goes out to them as a goalie because that’s got to be tough to handle mentally.”
Hildebrandt said he’s used to the pressure. He’s been playing keeper since age 2 when his older brother would prop him up on the sofa and shoot soccer balls at him.
“Having two goalkeepers always vying for a spot really helps you because you don’t have time to be content with anything,” Hildebrandt said. “You always know that somebody’s pushing you.”
Goalkeeping coach Paul O’Connor said both Hildebrandt and VanOekel put the competition aside to be good training partners, which is good considering they can learn from each other. O’Connor said Hildebrandt’s strengths are his footwork, speed and work ethic. VanOekel’s are his hands, communication and ability to distribute the ball 70 to 80 yards.
Hildebrandt is improving his distribution and on-field interaction, but much of that comes with experience, O’Connor said. Hildebrandt is hard on himself, which is good in practice but can snowball into mistakes in game.
While Hildebrandt may be intense on the pitch and during board games, he’s usually pretty laid back. Reed said there’s an impression in the couch where Hildebrandt sits for hours playing video games or watching football.
“I put so much in training that I like to just kind of relax the rest of the day,” Hildebrandt said. “I’m actually kind of a very boring person when it comes down to it.”