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Jay Nolly, Italian import Paolo Tornaghi battle for Fire's backup goalie spot

HOUSTON - APRIL 10: Goalkeeper Jay Nolly #18 of the Vancouver Whitecaps makes a save in the second half against the Houston Dynamo at Robertson Stadium on April 10, 2011 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Jay Nolly

Having played in 22 games over his four MLS seasons, veteran goalkeeper Jay Nolly has been cast as an understudy throughout much of his career.

While his first season with the Fire will do little to change his title, Nolly could see more time between the posts than he ever has as a backup.

With top goalkeeper Sean Johnson expected to miss time with national team duties, Nolly’s task will be to maintain the status quo.

“It’s definitely a good thing ­going into the season to have that opportunity that if I’m playing well, I’m going to get games,” Nolly, 30, said. “But they’ve also made it known that they don’t decide on things ­until that comes.”

That isn’t Nolly’s attempt at ­humility.

The Fire recently brought in 23-year old Italian goalkeeper Paolo Tornaghi on trial, a warning shot to Nolly to keep his focus.

Though Nolly is the favorite to win the backup spot, Tornaghi impressed the coaching staff in the Fire’s 1-0 victory against the Columbus Crew on Wednesday in the Carolina Challenge Cup, when he made six saves.

Tornaghi, formerly with Inter Milan, said that financial problems with Italy’s lower leagues prompted him to take his talents across the Atlantic and showcase his game.

Fire coach Frank Klopas said he would like to keep Tornaghi and the goalie relishes the idea of playing on a team with depth at his position.

“When you want to be a professional keeper, every year, every season you have to compete with another good keeper,” Tornaghi said. “So it’s not a problem. It will be like this every year of my career.”

While Tornaghi might be Klopas’ pet project, Nolly is expected to bring stability to the position.

Like any backup, Nolly says he is prepared to play at any moment. But his focus might be aimed toward late July, when Johnson could miss significant time if he’s called to the national team for the Olympics.

Johnson has spent the majority of training camp serving two stints with the national team, yielding Nolly first-team practice time.

“We feel pretty good [about the keepers],” Klopas said. “But now I think that it’s also guys that can push each other and get better.”