By Michael Grace-Dacosta
A miniature schnauzer in a pink jersey is watching his owner, Ryerson men's soccer goalie Christian Maraldo, taunt the Carleton Ravens' forwards by playing keep-ups. Eventually, one forward challenges Maraldo, but he simply dekes him and clears the ball out. While this may seem crazy to most, for Maraldo it's just another day at the office. Most people fear going against the grain — Maraldo embraces it.
"I'd be lying if I said he didn't keep us up at night sometimes," says associate coach Filip Prostran. "Sometimes when the ball gets passed back to Christian I just look away."
Maraldo, who will be graduating from Ryerson this spring with a degree in business management, started playing soccer when he was five years old as a midfielder. But he "got too fat" and moved into net when he was eight. His lost his first game in net 14-2. His parents were prepared to buy him ice cream to console him after the game, but were shocked when he came off the field ecstatic and wanting to play in net again.
"Honestly, I can't explain that to you," says Maraldo about his happiness after that game. "Anyone can be a defender ... to be a goalie, it's something that you can be remembered by."
Maraldo spent the next few years playing in and out of net before deciding to stay in net permanently when he was 16. It was around this time that Maraldo, who grew up playing hockey and soccer, committed himself to the pitch.
"I felt soccer was a lot more geared to my personality," says Maraldo. "You can't really wear a pink jersey in hockey."
Maraldo had the option to play for a U.S. NCAA Division I program coming out of high school but opted to stay at home because he wasn't offered a full scholarship.
Ryerson was in need of a goalie so head coach Ivan Joseph invited Maraldo to an exhibition game at the University of Toronto. Maraldo assumed he would be watching Ryerson play against U of T so he didn't bring his soccer gear. To his surprise, Ryerson was just using the field for an inter-squad game that Joseph wanted Maraldo to take part in. So Maraldo hopped in net wearing a guest's shirt, buffalo jeans and PUMA running shoes.
"It was terrible. Absolutely terrible," says Maraldo on his play that day. "I was like, this is it. I'm never playing for Ryerson. I just lost my chance."
Fortunately for Maraldo, he had a chance to show his stuff again at a recruiting day. He impressed the coaches and made the team.
Usually, members of the starting 11 warm up by playing Monkey in the Middle together but Maraldo bucks the trend and plays Monkey in the Middle with the benchwarmers. Later he does keep-ups and some freestyles to loosen up — much to the ire of his coaches.
Maraldo and his coaches have contrasting views on the game of soccer. Where the coaches want a safe and simple play, Maraldo prefers a flashy and risky one. He loves to play with fire.
"I'm really uncoachable when it comes to that kind of stuff because I have my own way in my mind of doing things," says Maraldo.
Maraldo once wore his sunglasses and flip-flops while watching Ryerson women's soccer team play the Queen's Gaels in pouring rain because it was familiar to him. At the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) Final Four last season he wore flip-flops, three quarter pants and a pink T-shirt despite it being close to zero degrees because that was a part of his routine during the regular season. In his spare time he partakes in interpretive dance and is a connoisseur of fine wines.
"He's the Charlie Sheen of the soccer team," says friend Sami Bekfi.
Maraldo became the starting goalie in his third year when the other goalie quit the team to focus on his studies. That same year, Maraldo and the coaching staff accepted the fact that they have different viewpoints and compromised by meeting each other halfway.
"At first we were trying to fit him in this square hole. Then we realized Christian doesn't fit in that mold," says Prostran. "We need to treat him a little differently."
The first step in this compromise was to get Maraldo to wear a Ryerson jersey during games. Maraldo always wore jerseys from his previous teams or league teams. When he finally agreed to wear a Ryerson jersey, he chose his famous pink jersey.
"The cool thing about being a goalie is you get to be different in terms of what you wear," Maraldo says. "I think that because of that I always took it a step forward and wanted to be different than everyone."
As the coaching staff embraced Maraldo's uniqueness, his play flourished. He was named an OUA all-star in both his fourth and fifth years. He also helped lead his team to an undefeated regular season and a berth at nationals in his fourth season.
"You want to wear a green, blue and black hat when you play, go for it. You want to wear clown shoes when you play, alright," Prostran says. "Whatever gets Christian going and makes him comfortable."
Maraldo was subbed into his final game as a Ram in the 87th minute as a striker. Shortly afterwards he got a chance to give his team the lead on a breakaway but missed, with a wide left shot — a fitting end to an unusual career. Maraldo has no regrets about his time at Ryerson and wouldn't change his flashy style even if it could have saved him from getting chewed out by coaches and opposing players.
"[It's] really risky, but a lot of fun," he says.