The state of MLS Goalkeeping / by Matthias Kullowatz

By Bill Reno (@letsallsoccer)

For those unfamiliar with ASA’s goalkeeping stats, the long explanation can be found here. But the short of it is that the “G - xG” stat column, Goals Allowed Minus Expected Goals, is how many additional goals goalkeepers are giving up versus expectation. A negative number means they are allowing fewer goals than expected, saving their team that many goals relative to an average keeper, while a positive number means they aren’t performing up to the standard MLS goalkeeper and are leaking easy goals. While the statistics do not include extracurricular activities (crosses, distribution, cutting off through balls, major blunders), they still represent an objective look at how MLS goalkeepers are performing this year specific to shot stopping.

It’s no secret MLS goalkeepers have struggled this year. Nearly every goalkeeper has given up some hair-pulling, eye-rolling goal at some point in the season. While the errors have several teams scrambling for a starter who can handle the workload, the shot stopping hasn’t been an issue for most teams. Really, there’s only five-ish goalkeepers that have struggled with the main part of goalkeeping. The other 27 haven’t completely crippled their respective teams.

Keeper Team Min SOG GA xGA GmxG
Bill Hamid DCU 670 35 5 8.92 -3.92
Clinton Irwin COL 963 37 9 11.94 -2.94
David Ousted VAN 1064 38 9 11.87 -2.87
Jaime Penedo LA 766 42 8 10.48 -2.48
Bobby Shuttleworth NE 954 34 10 12.17 -2.17
David Bingham SJ 965 43 10 11.92 -1.92
Jeff Attinella RSL 191 19 5 6.89 -1.89
Adam Larsen Kwarasey POR 957 32 9 10.44 -1.44
Josh Saunders NYC 861 40 11 12.06 -1.06
Nick Rimando RSL 776 21 5 5.99 -0.99
Stefan Frei SEA 860 45 9 9.83 -0.83
Andrew Dykstra DCU 157 10 2 2.62 -0.62
Tyler Deric HOU 1063 45 13 13.33 -0.33
Travis Worra DCU 39 1 0 0.04 -0.04
Ryan Meara NYC 95 7 1 1.04 -0.04
Jon Busch CHI 196 9 3 2.96 0.04
Brian Sylvestre PHI 94 10 3 2.92 0.08
Eric Kronberg MTL 97 3 2 1.92 0.08
Steve Clark CLB 856 37 10 9.91 0.09
Tim Melia SKC 193 5 1 0.86 0.14
Chris Konopka TOR 195 6 2 1.82 0.18
Evan Bush MTL 382 20 6 5.69 0.31
Sean Johnson CHI 571 20 7 6.64 0.36
Luis Robles NYRB 858 31 9 8.53 0.47
Dan Kennedy FCD 288 10 3 2.38 0.62
Brian Rowe LA 286 8 3 2.36 0.64
Rais Mbolhi PHI 486 19 9 8.33 0.67
Chris Seitz FCD 672 27 10 8.17 1.83
John McCarthy PHI 474 19 9 6.91 2.09
Donovan Ricketts ORL 866 31 12 9.52 2.48
Joe Bendik TOR 574 36 11 8.11 2.89
Luis Marin SKC 771 30 11 7.97 3.03

At first, 32 seemed like a lot of goalkeepers to be used this early into a season. Exactly half the teams in the league have used at least two goalkeepers, and that's before completing even a third of the season! Over the last four years, MLS has seen forty different goalkeepers on average, so if anything we should be expecting to see even more by the end of the year, especially if certain starters keep up their folly rates. It’s not completely reflective of ability, but to paint a clearer picture, here are the five worst games by MLS goalkeepers so far.

1. Rais M’Bolhi vs Sporting Kansas City - The last time M’Bolhi started for Philadelphia, he proved that the strategy of “letting more goals go in to forget the last one” doesn’t really hold up. M’bolhi managed to jump under a cross for the first goal, then do an Oscar-winning impersonation of a traffic cone for the final six minutes of stoppage time, turning a 2-1 win into a 3-2 loss.

2. Sean Johnson vs San Jose - A rough twenty minutes to start the game, to say the least. A cross is floated in and Johnson’s three inch vertical isn’t enough to punch it out. If that wasn’t bad enough, he follows that goal by muffing a soft bouncer, which of course San Jose pounced on.

3. Chris Seitz vs Portland - A game that easily could be number one if his pass back to Portland wasn’t to an offside player. After successfully dodging a bouncing shot for a goal, he whiffs on the skate save in the closing minutes. To be fair, Portland should have won the game, but Seitz didn’t really help the FC Dallas cause in this game.

4. Joe Bendik v Chicago - Three times Bendik can’t get down fast enough. While they’re all hit with pace, you have to think it’s going to be a task for Bendik to earn the starting spot back once he’s 100% healthy again.

5. John McCarthy v Columbus - Fortunately the scoreline wasn’t close for the Union rookie. On the opening goal, McCarthy over-anxiously rushes the shooter, and then scrambles on the third goal to find proper technique. McCarthy will be fine down the road, but this is one game he’ll want to learn from.

It’s easy to single out the worst games, but it’s not like the rest of the crop have been great. Bingham handed over on a late goal early in the season and Hamid did the same thing more recently. Kwarasey globetrotted a ball to Dempsey for a goal. Shuttleworth misplayed a trickling ball. Deric shot on his own goal. Ricketts was caught not paying attention. Busch essentially own goals a shot. Kennedy seemed more interested in tackling than saving. Penedo is starting to show his age. Marin has looked pretty clueless at times. Robles was yet another goalie to struggle with a cross. I don’t know what Saunders was expecting on this goal. Rimando did the infamous dive-out-of-the-way dive. And of course Meara pulled out some acrobatics to concede this goal.

Sure, this is a hyper focus on goalkeepers’ worst moments this season. We’ve seen several stellar saves - looking at you, David Ousted - but the excessive amount of goalkeeping errors really makes you wonder how far MLS has come from when Beckham was taking advantage of goalkeepers in the late 2000s.

To end on a positive note, there is still a race for goalkeeper of the year going on. Last month I wrote that it was Bill Hamid’s award to lose, and I now I am already backtracking on that statement. David Ousted has brought his A-game this year and is now in the driver’s seat. Another month into the season and we’re dropping the ASA GOTY Power Rankings from ten spots down to nine.

  1. David Ousted - Vancouver only has a two goal differential and thanks in large part to Ousted. How long can he keep it up?

  2. Stefan Frei - Easily would win “most improved” over the last two years. If Seattle makes a deep run, Frei could bump to number one with some hardware.

  3. Bobby Shuttleworth - Struggled last game (see above) but his hair could propel him to the top.

  4. Luis Robles - Red Bulls need a good goalkeeper more than Robles needs the award so he’ll get plenty of chances to earn it.

  5. Bill Hamid - Signs are pointing to a transfer but if he sticks around the USMNT tag will put him in the discussion alone.

  6. Steve Clark - Underplaying his talent so far and should bump up later in the season.

  7. Nick Rimando - Incredibly unlikely, but “hey, it could happen.”

  8. Clint Irwin - Fought off Zac MacMath for the starting spot and now is looking like his old 2013-self.

  9. Tyler Deric - Erratic as all get out, but if he put it together he has the talent to contend.