By Bill Reno (@letsallsoccer)
2015 was an up and down year for MLS goalkeeping. We had some surprise seasons from Stefan Frei, Tyler Deric, and David Ousted, all of which had question marks going into 2015 but clearly did work during the offseason to prepare themselves for the year. Now moving forward, each club’s fan base is excited for their goalkeeper and is probably calling them “one of the best in the league”. Jesse Gonzalez matched the young blood theme in Dallas and gave a great performance against Seattle that went into penalties. David Bingham earned praise for finally taking over the starting role in San Jose and Old Man Saunders led the league in saves with New York City. Even Brek Shea notched himself a great save for the season.
Tim Melia returned from the abyss to start for Sporting Kansas City and won perhaps the most ambiguous MLS award: Comeback Player of the Year. But most notably, Luis Robles won Goalkeeper of the Year after winning the Supporters’ Shield with New York Red Bulls. He was rewarded with a USMNT call up and hopes to add on to his single cap with the upcoming friendlies.
On the other side, MLS’s biggest game of the year ended up being a flop in the goalkeeping department. We saw in the first minute a colossal error from Steve Clark (who actually finished 3rd in the MLS GOTY award for 2014) and then saw Portland’s Adam Kwarasey fail to effectively punch a ball that led to a goal for Columbus in the same half. Fans and casual viewers were not impressed.
In a year that was set up for Nick Rimando to finally win the GOTY award (he’s been in the running the last four years), Real Salt Lake completely fell apart and Rimando has likely seen his last with the USMNT. Internationals Raïs M'Bolhi, Luis Marín, and Jaime Penedo all failed to stick around in 2015 and were released on bizarre terms. Tally Hall couldn’t stay healthy yet again and was shown the door in Orlando. Andrew Dykstra struggled to move DC United past the first round in the Champions League Knockout Stages, losing 5-2 in horrific fashion and Donovan Ricketts didn’t exactly help Galaxy advance in the playoffs after completely folding on the three goals. Ryan Meara and Deric had some comical goals this year, although I think the Red Bulls were okay with watching this one.
It wasn’t the best year for MLS goalkeepers and hopefully 2016 will bring some positive change. There are a number of a storylines to keep an eye on these next couple months.
1. Chicago & Orlando looking to take a gamble - Sean Johnson has yet to inspire any real confidence for Fire fans and right now he has a grand total of zero backups behind him. The time to sell Johnson is one year ago. Does Chicago continue hoping he finally turns a corner? The same can be said about Joe Bendik, who was traded to Orlando for 2016. Bendik was bumped in Toronto by the same player they would not re-sign at the end of the season, if that says anything. Both Bendik and Johnson have been tagged with “potential” but at twenty-six years old, does that phrase still apply?
2. Horton returns to MLS and then... - Ever since his announcement that he was returning to (ahem) the MLS, there’s yet to be any noise come up about where Charlie Horton is. Columbus is nearest to his home but Toronto may be a more suitable option if he’s looking to start. Either way he’s been completely off the radar since November.
3. Starting spot battles are starting to heat up - There are a number of teams with two strong options for the number one spot:
New York Red Bulls - Luis Robles + Ryan Meara
Colorado - Clint Irwin + Zac MacMath
Sporting Kansas City - Tim Melia + Jon Kempin
Philadelphia Union - Andre Blake + John McCarthy
Los Angeles Galaxy - Brian Rowe + Dan Kennedy
Some of the decisions are a little more clear cut than others but even if the Red Bulls go with Robles, is the USL really a viable level of competition for Meara? Young goalkeepers don’t exactly flourish on the bench.
4. Spots left to fill - There are multiple teams that need to finalize their goalkeeping pool but the two that stand out are DC and Toronto. DC recently moved on without backup Andrew Dykstra and the expectation of will Jim and Pam date, I mean, will Bill Hamid move to Europe continues on. All signs point to no unless DC can find a suitable replacement for Hamid this summer.
Toronto is left with Alex Bono (21) and Quillan Roberts (20). Surely they’re looking for another goalkeeper to compete for the starting spot but there’s been no word on it so far.
5. MLS SuperDraft not so super this year - A good sign pointing to a weak goalkeeper class is that the only Generation Adidas contracted goalkeeper in the draft is projected at twentieth in MLS’s mock draft. There could be some late round steals but the draft will definitely pale in comparison to last year’s. Still, Zach Bennett is a real standout and Wade Hamilton and Matt Bersano are both ready to go pro.