By Jeff Rueter – SAINT PAUL, MN (Apr 12, 2018) US Soccer Players - For the second straight round, an MLS side advanced in the Concacaf Champions League by virtue of a strong goalkeeping performance. After Luis Robles’ quarterfinal heroics, Toronto FC was able to stymy a Club America side in large part thanks to Alex Bono’s commanding 90 minutes between the posts. In particular, a one-handed reflex save in the 28th minute slowed America’s building momentum and protected an early 1-0 lead for the Reds.
In the league, Tim Melia won the MLS Player of the Week award after setting a Sporting Kansas City club record with 10 saves against a rejuvenated LA Galaxy side. All three goalkeepers joined their teams in different ways. One thing they have in common, however, is that their strong play has helped make their teams among the best in MLS. With that in mind, what are the going trends for teams to acquire their starting keepers? How are we determining who is the starter? It's the keeper who has started the most games thus far this season.
Acquired from other MLS side (trade, allocation, free agency, expansion draft) - 10
Joe Bendik, Orlando City — Traded from Toronto FC in Dec 2015
David Bingham, LA Galaxy — Traded from San Jose Earthquakes in Dec 2017
Stefan Frei, Seattle Sounders — Traded from Toronto FC in Dec 2013
Sean Johnson, New York City — Traded from Chicago Fire in Dec 2016
Matt Lampson, Minnesota United — Traded from Chicago Fire in Jan 2018
Tyler Miller, Los Angeles FC — Selected in Expansion Draft from Seattle Sounders in Dec 2017
David Ousted, D.C. United — Traded from Vancouver Whitecaps in Jan 2018
Nick Rimando, Real Salt Lake — Traded from DC United* in Dec. 2006
Richard Sánchez, Chicago Fire — Signed via allocation order from FC Dallas in Aug 2017
Chris Seitz, Houston Dynamo — Signed via free agency from FC Dallas in Dec 2017
*Rimando was also sent to New York Red Bulls that winter before going back to RSL in February.
At first glance, it surprised me that this method didn’t have more than half of the league’s teams involved. There’s a great deal of goalkeeper movement across the league. Young goalkeepers stuck behind established starters are often valuable trading chips for teams that need a boost at the position. Of the lot, Rimando stands head and shoulders above the rest as the cream of the crop. His trade is also made notable for the other player in the deal, Freddy Adu.
International acquisition - 5
Brad Guzan, Atlanta United — Signed from Middlesbrough on Jan. 25, 2017
Tim Howard, Colorado Rapids — Signed from Everton on on March 20, 2016
Stefan Marinovic, Vancouver Whitecaps — Signed from SpVgg Unterhaching on July 21, 2017
Luis Robles, New York Red Bulls — Signed from Karlsruher SC via allocation on Aug. 8, 2012
Zack Steffen, Columbus Crew — Signed from SC Freiburg on July 22, 2016
Some of the league’s marquee goalkeepers are in this grouping, with both USMNT regulars from the 2014 and 2018 cycles now plying their trade in MLS. The early frontrunner for the 2022 cycle is also in this lot. After impressing in the 2017 MLS Cup playoffs, Steffen has gotten starts in international friendlies in the ensuing months.
Signed from lower divisions - 4
Evan Bush, Montreal Impact — Signed from Montreal NASL iteration, Oct 2011
Jake Gleeson, Portland Timbers — Signed from Portland U-23s, Feb 2011
Jimmy Maurer, FC Dallas — Signed from New York Cosmos, Dec 2017
Matt Turner, New England Revolution — Signed from Jersey Express, Mar 2016
As the saying goes, there are three certainties in life: death, taxes, and MLS sides undervaluing the lower divisions in the US and Canada. Bush and Gleeson latched on at the right time, allowing them to make the move with existing clubs as they became MLS expansion franchises. Turner was something of an odd case: an undrafted goalkeeper out of college who’d last played with a PDL side before spending two seasons in the USL. Thus far, he’s been the position’s breakout in 2018. Meanwhile, Maurer was widely seen as the best goalkeeper in the NASL over the league’s existence and, with Jesse González injured, has done an impressive job in his first full MLS action.
MLS SuperDraft - 3
Andre Blake, Philadelphia Union — first pick in 2014 SuperDraft
Alex Bono, Toronto FC — sixth pick in 2015 SuperDraft
Andrew Tarbell, San Jose Earthquakes — eighth pick in 2016 SuperDraft
In the past two years, the goalkeeper position has been somewhat undervalued in the SuperDraft. The first goalkeeper didn't go until 23rd overall in the 2017 event, while Eric Dick was the first off the board in 2018 at 13th overall for Sporting KC. However, three top-ten picks have made good for the teams that took an early leap of faith in them. Blake has been one of MLS’ finest for a couple of seasons, while Bono seems poised to challenge Steffen for time in the coming years with the USMNT.
Pool goalkeeper - 1
Tim Melia, Sporting Kansas City — Aug 2014
Melia’s story is certainly a fascinating one. After backing up the likes of Rimando and Dan Kennedy, Melia found himself as the league’s emergency pool goalkeeper in 2014. He signed with Sporting KC after injuries to regulars Eric Kronberg and Andy Gruenebaum, serving as Jon Kempin’s backup. He impressed so much that he earned a full contract in 2015, ultimately wrestling the starting job from Kempin early that season. He never looked back, and won Goalkeeper of the Year in 2017.
That isn’t exactly a blueprint every team can bank on replicating. Pool goalkeepers are generally a team’s last resort. While Minnesota found themselves needing one last season, Billy Heavner didn’t make the team. Still, Melia is an enigma. He's a one-time contingency plan who now sits atop the league’s goalkeeper rankings.
Jeff Rueter is a reporter and analyst covering Major League Soccer for The Guardian, ESPN FC, The Athletic - Minnesota, and USSoccerPlayers. Follow him on Twitter: @jeffrueter.
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(Photo by Brad Smith - ISIPhotos.com)