MLS Actually Has Very Good GoalkeepingVeterans, newcomers, up-and-coming keepers give league deep pool of talent
by Ray Marcham | Friday, November 20, 2015
At some point when many weren’t looking, MLS may have entered a golden age of goalkeepers.
All one has to do is look not only at the finalists for the league’s Goalkeeper of the Year award (won by Red Bulls’ veteran Luis Robles) but who didn’t make the final three this season. And there’s more talent starting to make an impact.
Robles won the GOTY award after backstopping the Red Bulls to the Supporters’ Shield. He led the league with 18 wins and started all of New York’s MLS matches. He’s become one of the best keepers in MLS since arriving from Karlsruher late in the 2012 season, and has been a key in both of NYRB’s Supporters’ Shield seasons (2013 and 2015).
The other two finalists were also key to their clubs’ seasons. David Ousted was a major factor in Vancouver’s rise to be a challenger for the Western Conference crown, compiling a fantastic 1.06 goals against average. He was one of just four keepers to start in all 34 MLS regular season matches this season, along with Robles, Columbus’ Steve Clark and San Jose’s David Bingham.
The other finalist, Bill Hamid, has become vital in DC United’s quick rise to contender status from the disaster that was 2013. The past two seasons has established Hamid as one of MLS’ elite keepers as DCU won the East in 2014 and near the top for much of 2015.
But those three are just the beginning in what’s become a group of goalkeepers that may be among the best that MLS has seen. In Seattle, Stephen Frei was a major reason the Sounders even made the playoffs, and had was worth multiple points for them as they drove to make the playoffs. Clark was crucial for the Crew’s push to second in the East, facing the second most shots and making the second most saves during the season, keeping them in numerous games. The same can be said for Evan Bush, who made numerous key saves while Montréal was making their playoff run. Sean Johnson was seemingly always under pressure during Chicago’s horrendous season, but kept the Fire in numerous matches they probably wouldn’t have been in otherwise.
Newcomers made a big impact on MLS this season. Portland’s Adam Kwarasey had 13 shutouts this season, tying him with Ousted for the MLS lead. He also steadied a defense that steadily got better as the season went on. Jesse Gonzalez has gone from the keeper of the future with FC Dallas to possibly the keeper of the present, as his performance against Seattle in the Western Conference semis showed. David Bingham emerged as the top GK for San Jose, and one that could be around for a while. Tyler Deric established himself as Houston’s primary keeper in 2015, and likely could be their GK for many years.
And there are those who just keep rolling along. Nick Rimando led MLS in GAA again this season, averaging 1 goal per match in his 24 starts for Real Salt Lake. Bobby Shuttleworth continues to rule the goal for New England, Tally Hall recovered from a knee injury to almost get Orlando into the postseason and Clint Irwin was a bright spot in an otherwise troublesome season for Colorado. Josh Saunders was the one working the hardest, facing the most shots and making the most saves of any keeper in MLS while behind the very suspect defense at New York City FC, but that also meant a 1.73 GAA that was highest of any regular GK in the league. Dan Kennedy had a fairly good season at FC Dallas, with a GAA of 1.19, before he eventually lost his job to Gonzalez.
What should make MLS fans, and fans of the US national team, somewhat excited is the depth of young American keepers that are getting significant playing time. Clark, Bingham, Deric, Bush, Melia and Johnson are all under 30, and should be on Jurgen Klinsmann’s radar. Hamid was on the USMNT roster for the World Cup qualifiers against St. Vincent & the Grenadines and Trinidad & Tobago, but seems to be the odd man out with Klinsmann preferring Brad Guzan and Tim Howard. Rimando was the #3 keeper for much of the year, though his playing time was almost non-existent. Johnson has started for the USMNT, but isn’t with the main squad on a consistent basis. While European-based goalkeepers like Ethan Horvath, Zack Steffen and Cody Cropper get mentioned as possible GKs of the future for the USMNT, discounting MLS’ young keepers would be a mistake, but one that probably will be made.
It’s the balance of established veterans, up-and-coming keepers and newcomers making an immediate impact that makes this group of goalkeepers the deepest MLS has seen in its short history. With Robles, Clark, Kwarasey and Gonzalez all displaying their talents in the conference finals, fans will be able to see some of the best.