MLS Cup Thoughts and General Goalkeeper Roundup

Three things in this post:

1. MLS final
2. Goalkeeper of the Year Award
3. MLS Goalkeeper Final Destination

1. MLS final

We were all made aware of the conditions before the game. The ice on the field, the cold temperatures, the effects on the ball… but then again, it’s the final in your sport so maybe it’s not the best time to come up with excuses.

The final featured two of the three finalists for Goalkeeper of the Year so we should expect an exciting display between both set of posts. This was not the case. Let’s walk through the video

  • 0:58 – Nick Rimando makes a half-falling/half-diving save in the twenty-fifth minute. It’s enough in his mitts that he can hold it, but he pushes it wide and almost bonks his head.
  • 1:28 – Nielsen gets a little too far under a punch and sends it straight up in the air, almost setting up a gift of a goal.
  • 2:20 – If you notice, this is the third highlight and we’re almost through the first half. That might tell you something. Rimando stays alert, and the bouncing ball isn’t in complete control of Dwyer. It’s a needed save but not that tough. Rimando has time to get there and Dwyer has a limited shooting angle on goal.
  • 2:40 – Start of the second half sees CJ Sapong with the ball in front of goal yet again. Rimando gets caught going the wrong way when Sapong cuts off the cross. He tries to scramble to the post but luckily (for Rimando) the shot skies over.
  • 3:25 – RSL gets the first goal of the game from a nice no-look-pass from Beckerman to Sabario who chests then volleys it home. But check out Nielsen’s starting position on the shot.
    Screen Shot 2013-12-08 at 12.30.50 PM
    So far from the line! He could have chipped him if he tried (foreshadowing, wooOOoo!). Sabario takes the trap and Nielsen (who starts calling for a handball) is so far from the line he can’t get into position well enough (notice the green triangles below). If he’s closer to the line he can get into position better and he’ll have more time to react, likely making the save.
Screen Shot 2013-12-08 at 12.26.32 PM


Screen Shot 2013-12-08 at 12.26.38 PM

Shooting angles

  • 4:50 – Beckerman takes a shot from distance. On the replay (5:12), check out Nielsen’s left foot: cemented into the ground. His right foot does all the moving. This is not good. Just turning your body to make a save really limits the distance you can cover. A quicker shuffle to Nielsen’s left can get a hand on that shot.
  • 5:25 – Possibly the biggest “LOL” of the match. Nielsen is so far off his line that the most casual chip almost beats him. The ball doesn’t even clear the crossbar, if that tells you how non-chalant the chip was.
    Screen Shot 2013-12-08 at 12.59.41 PM
    Nielsen turns around, surprised the ball is still in play, chases it out and eats snow hard. Woof.
  • 6:40 – SKC equalizes with a questionably fair header…Rimando bounces over but can’t make the extension.

    Screen Shot 2013-12-08 at 1.03.38 PM

    If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.

  • 7:20 – Ninety-third minute and Rimando makes the “Allstate Good Hands Save of the Match”. A simple tip over from a blast eight yards out.
  • 7:50 – Sapong with another chance while being mauled.
  • 8:25 – I’ll just leave this picture to sum up the events here:Screen Shot 2013-12-08 at 2.44.10 AM
  • Apparently nothing happened for the next fifteen minutes and the penalties ensue. Here are the tendancies for Nielsen and Rimando:Screen Shot 2013-12-08 at 1.19.58 PM
    The “n’s” and “y’s” are if the keepers guessed the correct way or not. A “y” means yes he did, obviously, and the asterisks mean that while he guessed correctly the ball missed the goal frame. The green represents all the times the shooter did not score (after five rounds it was 3-3, three reds each). Both goalkeepers guessed the right way four of the ten times. The last two columns are where the keepers were guessing. Rimando was 5-2-3 (left-middle-right) and Nielsen was 6-0-4. So if you needed any more proof that shootouts are more determined by the shooters than goalkeeper then… well I don’t know. This games looks pretty clear to me. Nielsen is painted as the shootout hero but almost has the exact same stats as Rimando, not to mention all his follies from the run of play. Also he’s about five feet off his line on the eighth-round shot. (I know the ball is well-past kicked at this point, but he was in the process of planting his foot so it was blurry. Also balls kicked travel faster than feet move.)Screen Shot 2013-12-08 at 2.34.30 AM

At least it was a fun game. We can all agree on that.

2. Goalkeeper of the Year Award

If you’re not going to assign numbers to winning an award then you basically can give it to whomever you want. Call it heart, call it leadership… whatever. Everyone has highlights/lowlights that anyone can recall, but you can’t give a season award off one event. Complimenting a player with the title of “best” over a year’s play implies they affected their team in the most positive manner for the entire season. If you’re not using some numerical attribute to rank goalkeepers, I can’t convince you that Rimando was the best. But coming from someone who has watched A LOT of film, I know he was and I quantified it. If you want to disagree, you have to have numbers somehow, or else you’re just saying “Nu uh. You’re wrong.” I know I haven’t made my stats extremely transparent. And, yes, I know they’re not completely finished at this point (believe me I would have loved to finish it if I could have), but it’s better than the current alternative of either blasting Ricketts for not being able to hold a ball (which people can only remember this specifically happening a handful of times) or praising Ricketts for being the best goalkeeper in the league because they think they saw his name in the Save of the Week a lot.

I’ll take it a step further, there’s a reason why a bunch of goalkeepers end up with very similar stats at the end of the year: current goalkeeping stats are too simple and don’t gauge anything of real value. Isn’t it weird that Jimmy Nielsen had a phenomenal GAA (.88) and an average save percentage (68)? Was Nielsen only getting long-range bombs that he struggled with, or did he do a great job with only facing 1-v-1s? These stats don’t tell us anything.

3. MLS Goalkeeper Final Destination

All that to say, the end of the season is nigh, and thus the goalkeeper shuffle begins! Actually it’s entirely less exciting than that, but I needed to spice it up a bit. Here’s a team-by-team guide. I know some teams (FC Dallas, ahem) have youngsters in USYNT camps so I’m putting a minimum requirement of being 18 years old to make any mention. (Because I think we all remember what we were like at 17, so let’s not add anymore pressure to them.) I also included potential homegrowns just for fun.

Here are some reserve league stats. I just tallied minutes and games played. (Paolo Tornaghi played 765 minutes in nine games.) I only marked minutes played at 45 or 90 because, come on, it’s the reserve league. I didn’t even bother with goals allowed because I didn’t want to fool you with misleading stats.

Screen Shot 2013-12-07 at 11.13.32 PM

Chicago Fire

Starter:Sean Johnson (23)
Back Up: Paolo Tornaghi (25)
In Reserve: Alec Kann (24)

We all know Sean Johnson, blah blah blah. Tornaghi played six times for Chicago (not great, not awful) but did not get re-signed. Kann sat the bench a handful of times and being two years out from Furman has yet to play an official match (from what I can find) but did get five reserve matches.

Outlook: Johnson will likely have at least one more year in the MLS but a transfer to another league is definitely in the cards. Or perhaps that is just the outrageous expectations from the media. Kann has some promise but look for Chicago to sign a late 20s veteran as backup for some more stability and fill Tornaghi’s void.

Chivas USA

Starter:Dan Kennedy (31)
Back Up: Tim Melia (26)
In Reserve: Pat McLain (25), Jake McGuire (19)

Kennedy matched his age with his games played at 31 but honestly he had a noticeable drop off this year. McLain and Melia both played two games this season to about the skill of a backup would be. Freshman McGuire had a good season at Tulsa.

Outlook: It depends a lot on Chivas’ outlook. If they’re content with Kennedy they’ll sign another backup or snag a young goalie in the Superdraft. If they’re worried about Kennedy, which they honestly should be, they bring in some competition for him. McLain should see some reserve league action at another club.

Colorado Rapids

Starter:Clint Irwin (24)
Back Up: Matt Pickens (31)
In Reserve: Steward Ceus (26), Andrew Epstein (17)

Wow what a weird season. Apparent starter, Matt Pickens, fractures his arm second game of the season and Clint Irwin has such a good year that “fear the beard” is starting to sound kinda weird. Ceus started the opener but let a ball bounce over his head into the goal (oh it’s much worse than it sounds). I did include Epstein despite being sub-18 because he did get one reserve game. He is a freshman at Stanford.

Outlook: I wouldn’t be surprised if they stick with this batting order. I don’t think any teams are impressed with Pickens, which is unfortunate because he was pretty decent. Colorado has no plans for Ceus, I’m sure. Also he was not re-signed so I’m pretty confident in this assumption.

Columbus Crew

Starter:Andy Gruenebaum (30)
Back Up: Matt Lampson (24)
In Reserve: Daniel Withrow (23)

Another team with an injured goalie position. Gruenebaum started 21 games (and played excellent) but hip problems held him out for the back half. Lampson started 13 games and did around the “eh” level. Withrow made the bench nine times.

Outlook: Columbus signed Brad Stuver in the waiver draft so now Columbus has three goalkeepers from 22-24. Of course Lampson has the experience but I could see them all seeing bench time behind a healthy Gruenebaum. If Gruenebaum does stay healthy, he will start. I doubt Columbus will ship him because Lampson and company aren’t quite there and the Hebrew Hammer still has some gas in the tank. But it’s all centered around Gruenebaum’s health. If he’s not 100% going into the season, I could see Columbus making a move like Galaxy did with Penedo.

D.C. United

Starter:Bill Hamid (23)
Back Up: Joe Willis (25)
In Reserve: Andrew Dykstra (27)

Hamid made great saves and awful mistakes but (apparently) showed enough potential to get some NT call ups. Willis saw nine games with Hamid’s in and outs. Dykstra is on loan in Richmond but he’s as reliable as can be.

Outlook: The situation with Willis is interesting because typically a 25 year old who shows he can play at the MLS level would look to move out from second string but I think Hamid won’t be in D.C. for too long. So if Willis sticks around he could be starting in the MLS at 26, 27, which isn’t a bad deal. For a goaltender who skipped college to go pro, Hamid will surely scoot in a few years to a better. Willis will likely sit for another year and then be given a chance to start in the future. Dykstra might stick around but he’s another great backup so a team might try to steal him for a year.

FC Dallas

Starter:Raul Fernandez (28)
Back Up: Chris Seitz (26)
In Reserve: Richard Sanchez (19), Kyle Zobeck (23), Jesse Gonzalez (18)

You’d think losing the one of the best goalkeepers in MLS history would be a sign of a rebuilding year for FC Dallas but this is easily the strongest goalkeeping core in the MLS. Fernandez, the starter for Peru’s national team, was in the top five for most goalkeeping discussions. Seitz is the best backup in the league. And of course we have the young Richard Sanchez who shined during his loan to Fort Lauderdale. Zobeck, a first year out of Valparaiso, sat the bench for ten times for the Burn [sic] and while he never saw the field with the senior team, he did finished well in the reserve league. I can’t find anything substantial on Gonzalez outside that he does appear to exist (sorry Jesse).

Outlook: Fernandez was great in the midst of a not so great year from FC Dallas. I think Seitz could start at a handful of clubs and with Sanchez coming up in the ranks, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Seitz not in the Dallas stripes. For those that are calling Sanchez’s name, MacMath has a very similar path to the MLS and I think starting at such a young age (20, 21) really stunted him. So no need to rush it with Sanchez. This leaves Zobeck under Sanchez in the pecking order. I expect nothing to happen for 2014 but then see Seitz exit before 2015.

Houston Dynamo

Starter:Tally Hall (28)
Back Up: Tyler Deric (25)
In Reserve: Erich Marscheider (20)

You may remember Tally Hall’s few call ups to the national team this year. (Canada in January and the Germany-Belgium series, if I’m remembering correctly.) Although he didn’t get playing time it’s still a pretty nice honor. Houston bounced between Deric and Marscheider for sitting the bench and reserve time.

Outlook: Houston looks pretty content with their situation. Deric has five years on Marschy but with the constant switching it almost implies that Houston has more invested in Marschskis. Houston may sign Notre Dame senior Patrick Wall to a homegrown contract. Other than that option, I wouldn’t expect anything else.

LA Galaxy

Starter:Carlo Cudicini (40) / Jamie Penedo (32)
Back Up: Brian Rowe (25)
In Reserve: Brian Perk (24)

What a year for the Galaxy. Fans quickly lambasted Cudicini (141 appearances with Chelsea, don’t forget) for easy goals. Eventually Penedo was brought in while Rowe saw a couple of games on the field before Penedo took over completely. The Brians spent some time in the reserve league as well. And Will Hesmer almost was in the picture to, for those who were paying attention to the re-entry draft.

Outlook: Well Cudicini is surely done starting. Penedo’s contract only goes through 2014 so I think LAG is trying to groom Rowe for 2015. Perk is a big question mark, however. I’m not sure what is going to become of him. But all-in-all LAG look set in goal moving forward.

Montreal Impact

Starter:Troy Perkins (32)
Back Up: Evan Bush (27)
In Reserve: Maxime Crépeau (19), Dominic Provost (20), Samuel Dufort (19)

Perkins had a very underrated year and Bush plays the backup role fine enough. Maxime looked really bad in these highlights from over a year ago. I can’t find anything that says Provost and Dufort has been with the Canadian YNT (all three are Canadian).

Outlook: Perkins doesn’t look like slowing down but Bush isn’t going to compete for his spot. The other three worry me because while Montreal might like to get Canadians on their team for their fan base, I don’t think any of these three are the answer. I would love to be wrong on this, though.

New England Revolution

Starter:Matt Reis (38) / Bobby Shuttleworth (26)
Back Up: (above)
In Reserve: Luis Soffner (23)

Another club with an interesting goalkeeper situation. Reis and Shuttleworth battle for the spot all season (with 12 and 23 games played, respectively). Soffner only made the bench three times early in the season. Reis gets the start in the playoffs and is a part of one of more bizarre plays I’ve ever seen. He comes out of his box to collect a long ball, volleys it over someone, chests it, and as he’s about to pass it out he tears his quad and is unable to finish the game. Andrew Farrell finishes in his stead.

Outlook: Well currently not so much. Shuttleworth is the only goalkeeper under contract for the Revolution. Both Soffner and Reis’s options weren’t picked up by the Revolution so they have some holes to fill. I’m still a little confused on how confident Jay Heaps is with Shuttleworth (think Jim and Pam will-they-won’t-they drama). My guess is they try for a better option but if nothing is cheaply available they’ll go with Shuttleworth.

New York Red Bulls

Starter:Luis Robles (29)
Back Up: Ryan Meara (23)
In Reserve: Kevin Hartman (39), Santiago Castano (18), Keith Cardona (21)

Robles, who was in the running for goalkeeper of the year for some reason, played every MLS minute while Castano and Meara traded off back up roles mid way through the season. Hartman retired after two reserve games and Cardona is currently not starting at Maryland as a junior.

Outlook: Similar to Los Angeles, New York seems invested in Meara and (clearly) willing to ride the Robles train as long as they can. Castano also might figure into the picture as he leads the US U20s goalkeeping pool at the moment. Cardona has a long road to recovery.

Philadelphia Union

Starter:Zac MacMath (22)
Back Up: Chris Konopka (28), Oka Nikolov (39)
In Reserve: Zack Steffen (18)

MacMath played every minute in league play. Konopka was traded to Toronto in September and Old Man Oka sat the bench for the last ten games. Steffen finished his senior year at Akron, helping them get to the second round. Nikolov’s contract wasn’t picked up so now MacMath sits alone in Philadelphia.

Outlook: I really wish Philadelphia would give MacMath some competition if not let him sit for a bit. Putting someone through the fire early is such a high risk scenario. Look for Philly to pick up a goalie in the re-entry draft and another Joe before the start of next season as they try to see what MacMath can do in 2014.

Portland Timbers

Starter:Donovan Ricketts (36)
Back Up: Milos Kocic (28)
In Reserve: Jake Gleeson (23), David Meves (23), Blake Hylen (23), Justin Baarts (23)

Ugh okay besides that, Kocic played two games for Portland and there are a plethora of twenty-three year old goalkeepers in Portland. Not exactly sure what’s going on here but Gleeson seems to have the lead. Although New Zealand is not the most highly regarded international squad, he still has six caps as a 23 year old.

Outlook: Portland hasn’t shown consistency in their short history with goalkeepers and I don’t think this will change. Because of this, I will make a not-so-bold prediction: Ricketts to starts next season but by the end of 2014 things will look disordered. Kocic won’t be any better of an option. They’ll want to stick with Gleeson but he’ll still have some kinks to iron out and there won’t be another option mid-season. So 2014 will be a disarray in the back with a huge question mark going into 2015.

Real Salt Lake

Starter:Nick Rimando (34)
Back Up: Jeff Attinella (25)
In Reserve: Josh Saunders (32), Eduardo Fernández (20)

Yes, you could say Rimando was robbed with a +10 GSAR on the year. I think most people forget that Attinella is a success story from the NASL. Only 25, he is in a good position to start in the MLS before 30. Fernandez will be a success but his time is still 2-3 years away. And of course we have the man who popularized the Saundersault.

Outlook: Saunders will likely continue to bounce around and RSL will stick with Rimando until he’s dust. The future is in decent hands with Attinella and Fernandez.

San Jose Earthquakes

Starter:Jon Busch (37)
Back Up: David Bingham (24)
In Reserve: Evan Newton (25)

Busch is 37?? Wow. Bingham played four games (3 CONCACAF CL games) including the last game of the season.

Outlook: Bingham is ready to go and will be starting by the end of 2014. Journeyman Busch will be on his way out but should still get a good portion of the games. Newton was not resigned.

Seattle Sounders

Starter:Michael Gspurning (32)
Back Up: Andrew Weber (30) / Marcus Hahnemann (40)
In Reserve: Josh Ford (26), Earl Edwards (21), Zac Lubin (24)

Gspurning did better than most think: not awful but the door is definitely open. Hahnemann did very well coming off the bench (six matches, including playoffs), Weber did alright on a reverse loan (three matches) and Ford was useless with an injury.

Outlook: If there’s one club that needs competition at the goalkeeping spot it’s Seattle. I’d say Seattle brings in not a backup but someone to push Gspurning for the starting spot. Hahnemann plays one more year then retires. Perhaps they sign Doug Herrick from the pool. Edwards might sign a homegrown contract coming out of UCLA. Who is Zac Lubin?

Sporting Kansas City

Starter:Jimmy Nielsen (36)
Back Up: Eric Kronberg (30)
In Reserve: Jon Kempin (20)

Nielsen plays every game. Since 2006, Kronberg has had 13 apperances (four this year in Champions League play). Jon Kempin received nine appearances on his loan to Orlando City but never established consistent playing time.

Outlook: Nielsen salvages his reptuation by saving some penalty kicks but make no mistake he needs to be replaced. I would love to say Kansas City would be trying to move forward but I’m sure they are content with the Danish goalkeeper in the back. He will likely take a Cudicini-path soon enough. Kronberg looked really warm on the celebration stage at the final and Kempin might go on loan again.

Toronto FC

Starter:Joe Bendik (24)
Back Up: Stefan Frei (27)
In Reserve: Quillian Roberts (19), Garret Cypus (21), Angelo Cavalluzzo (20), Chad Bush (19)

Toronto traded for Bendik right at the end of 2012 so even though Frei was coming back from an injury they wanted to be set in the goal. As TFC raced towards the bottom of the table, Bendik did very well in goal. Frei played late in the season to give him some marketability, I assume. Roberts made the bench a few times.

Outlook: Toronto traded for Chris Konopka from Philadelphia so it is almost positive that Frei is on his way out. Konopka should be challenged by Roberts for the bench spot but the real question is how long Bendik stays in Toronto. If he continues his streak, he’ll be a top goalkeeper in 2014 but will he be getting enough exposure to move to a higher league?

Vancouver Whitecaps

Starter:Joe Cannon (38) / Brad Knighton (28) / David Ousted (28)
Back Up: (above)
In Reserve: Simon Thomas (23), Callum Irving (20), Sean Melvin (19)

Who wasn’t a starter/back up this year in Vancouver? First Cannon played ten games, then Knighton played eleven games, then Ousted finished the season with thirteen. Thomas actually spent more time on the bench for Canada’s National Team than he did for Vancouver, if that tells you anything about Canada’s situation.

Outlook: I don’t think even Vancouver knows. Cannon and Knighton are out, we know that, but Ousted didn’t exactly ring confidence. But I imagine they’ll try Ousted at the start of the year and go from there.


Goalkeepers able to move to a better league in the next couple years: Sean Johnson (CHC), Bill Hamid (DCU), Joe Bendik (TOR)

Second string goalkeepers that are able to start in the MLS now: Matt Pickens (CLR), Joe Willis (DCU), Chris Seitz (FCD), Brian Rowe (LAG), David Bingham (SJ), Stefan Frei (TOR)

Backups that need some more time but could start in the future: Alec Kann (CHC), Brian Perk (LAG), Ryan Meara (NYRB), Santiago Castano (NYRB), Eduardo Fernandez (RSL), Jon Kempin (SKC)

Free Agents (best to worst in my opinion): Pat McLain, Luis Soffner, Evan Newton, Doug Herrick, Brad Knighton, Paolo Tornaghi, Joe Cannon, Evan Bush, Matt Reis, Oka Nikolov

Teams that could really use another potential starter: Chivas, Vancouver, Sporting Kansas City, San Jose, Portland, Seattle, Philadelphia

Teams looking to pick up a goalkeeper in the SuperDraft: Vancouver, Philadelphia, New England

Collegiate goalkeepers that might make the jump: Andre Blake (Connecticut), Patrick Wall (Notre Dame), John McCarthy (La Salle), Spencer Richey (Washington), Earl Edwards (UCLA), Adam Grinwis (Michigan), Omar Zeeni (UC Davis), Phil Saunders (UMBC), Alex Bono (Syracuse)


One thought on “MLS Cup Thoughts and General Goalkeeper Roundup

  1. Those angles on the Saborio shot are telling. Nielsen could have gotten another foot or two closer to the near post!

    “…current goalkeeping stats are too simple and don’t gauge anything of real value.”

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