By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (Jun 5, 2023) US Soccer Players – The United States has been a producer of world-class goalkeeping for decades now. It should come as no surprise that MLS is a league that continues to produce high-level goalkeepers, and already this season has been no different.
There have been MLS goalkeepers who, over the last few years, have caught the eye of European clubs. Former New England Revolution goalkeeper Matt Turner signed with Arsenal midway through last season and was the National Team starter at the 2022 World Cup. Gaga Slonina moved from Chicago to Chelsea, starting for the USMNT U-20s at the 2023 U-20 World Cup. Zack Steffen made an earlier move from Columbus to Manchester City in 2019. Within MLS, Sean Johnson moved from NYCFC to Toronto after being part of the USMNT’s World Cup squad, while 2010 and 2014 World Cup veteran Brad Guzan is showing the longevity of the position with Atlanta.
While goals are what everyone wants to see, teams depend on great goalkeepers to help teams win championships. With the focus on US-eligible goalkeepers, here are three of them making a difference for their MLS clubs in 2023.
Roman Celentano (FC Cincinnati)
FC Cincinnati has been one of the toughest teams to score against this season due in large part because they have Roman Celentano in goal. The 22-year-old has eight clean sheets so far in 2023, the latest this past Saturday in a 1-0 win against the Chicago Fire. Giving up just 15 goals in 16 games while going 9-0-0 at home has helped propel the team into 1st-place in the Eastern Conference.
Celentano is still young, especially for a goalkeeper. Deciding to forgo his senior year at Indiana University, Celentano was drafted second overall last season by FC Cincinnati, becoming the highest-drafted goalkeeper since Andre Blake in 2014.
In 2023, Celentano is putting up numbers that are better than his rookie season. He played in 27 regular season games in 2022, giving up 42 goals. He only had five shutouts in all of last season and a save percentage of 66.9. In 16 games this season, Celentano’s save percentage has been higher at 77.3%.
Joe Willis (Nashville SC)
Another Eastern Conference side that’s off to a strong start is Nashville SC. They are currently second in the conference and much credit goes to starting goalkeeper Joe Willis. A veteran of 11 MLS seasons, Willis has six shutouts in 2023. That’s only part of the story. The 34-year-old has an 82.5 save percentage and surrendered just 11 goals.
Willis has a great defense playing in front of him, featuring USMNTers Walker Zimmerman and Shaq Moore. That wasn’t the situation with his previous clubs. He has a real chance at a deep run this season with a combination of his experience and that talent in Nashville’s defense. His save percentage, should it stand by the end of the season, would be a career-high for Willis.
Drake Callender (Inter Miami CF)
If Willis is the example of a very good goalkeeper playing for an excellent team, then Drake Callender shows what it means to be a solid keeper on a struggling team. That’s what life has been like for Callender and Inter Miami so far this season.
Callender has played in MLS for just one season prior to this one, but he’s shown signs that he can grow into a great player in the coming years. So much so, that he was recently called up to the USMNT’s training camp ahead of the Concacaf Nations League semifinals.
Miami is currently last in the Eastern Conference with a 5-11-0 record. Despite that, the 25-year-old Callender has recorded two clean sheets so far and notched a save percentage of 75.6, leading the league in saves with 65.
Whether you’re looking at veterans such as Willis, players with World Cup experience like Johnson and Guzan, or younger goalkeepers like Celentano or Callender, along with the quality of the international goalkeepers, several of whom play for their countries, the league is loaded with goalkeeping talent. There’s no telling what other names will emerge this coming summer as teams start to trend in one direction or another. We all know how much good goalkeeping matters, even more so in a playoff league when those steady hands in goal can make all the difference.
Clemente Lisi is a regular contributor to US Soccer Players. He is also the author of the new book “The FIFA World Cup: A History of the Planet’s Biggest Sporting Event.”