MLS Goalkeepers: Putting Their Best Feet Forward / by Bill Reno

By Bill Reno (@letsallsoccer)

Today we spell redemption, R. O. N. I mean, M. L. S. Finally, after about ten weeks of alternating between good saves and bonehead plays, a number of goalkeepers have gotten their feet under them. And just because of that, we’re going to look at how good their feet really are. Sure it’s a loose transition, but just take a look at the stats first before you click out of here to go post your favorite starting USMNT XI on SBI.

I was lucky enough to stumble on a site called “ASA” (pronounced, ass-ah, I’m pretty sure) and steal some of their passing stats. (If the format is goofy on your phone, click here.)

Make sure to check out each of the three tabs

Looking at the first tab, the first thing that stands out is Steve Clark’s passing percentage. This isn't a huge surprise if you've seen Columbus play. They take their time with building the ball up and don’t just boot it down the field. However, I did not expect to see Josh Saunders or Chris Seitz up there, which is impressive for two goalkeepers who don’t get a lot of press. 

On the right, I separated the passes into four different categories, depending on how far the pass went: 0-20 yards, 20-40, 40-60, and 60+. (The sample size started to get stretched out with 80+ so I just lumped them all into 60+.) Clark’s passing percentage still stays high when compared to his peers and Andre Blake sits third in the 40-60 range. Some goalkeepers move up and down over the distance but it’s a lot of numbers to digest. The gradients help on the passing percentages, but just how close are these passing percentages? And are certain goalkeepers forcing unnecessary turnovers?

On the second table, I weighted the target areas to answer those questions. Completed passes went up in value from 0 to 3 while turnovers were more costly, going from (-1) to (-4). Admittedly, this isn't a very scientific system so don’t put too much stock into it. The overall sorting doesn't change much from the first to the second tab, entitled “Made Up Stat”, but it does help show the gap a little better. Saunders and Clark lead the pack by a good distance while Travis Worra and Tyler Deric (who hasn't played a ton this season) are far behind.

Lastly, the third tab is just a look at how well teams defend goalkeeper distribution. I’m not sure if there’s a whole lot to take from this other than nodding your head and saying “interesting” but there you go.

Goalkeeper of the Year Award Power Rankings

1. Nick Rimando - RSL sits second in the west in PPG (1.77) and Rimando is twelve games away from taking Kevin Hartman’s all-time game played record. (12 games from now, RSL is at Seattle on August 14th, then return home to host FC Dallas on the 20th) Things are really lining up for Rimando to finally win the award and, oh he’s probably made the best save of the year.

2. Andre Blake - The curious case of Andre Blake. On one hand, everyone loves him. On the other, no one knows how good he is. Recently Matthew Doyle gave the goalkeeper quite the compliment, entering the Copa America:

I think he’s going to get a chance to show that he can be a world class keeper and, by the way, I think he has the talent to be a world class keeper.
— Matt Doyle

It’s not a stretch to say MLS is proud of their Jamaican goalkeeper, and rightfully so as he’s made a number of impressive saves in the season. But looking at the goals he conceded in the tournament, I don’t think many scouts are going back to their top clubs saying they have to sign Blake right away. He makes a bad situation worse on his 1v1 against Venezuela, his footwork against Mexico cost him both goals and almost gifted them another, and “overwhelmed” might be the best word to describe his outing against Uruguay.

Yes, hindsight is whatever those numbers are, but for anyone paying attention to Blake, they would know he is really good at one thing and after that he needs a lot of work. But MLS doesn't seem to mind the rough edges as they’re willing to call someone potentially world class after less than 25 professional starts. The fandom alone might be enough for him to win the award.

3. David Bingham - Undoubtedly Bingham has had a well-publicized second year as a starter. But does he deserve to be in the running? While some may offer a different perspective, I would submit no, no, no, annnnd no. And you can look at each play and give this excuse or that excuse, sure. They’re not simple and there definitely is a level of play you have to reach to make those saves, but isn't that what we should expect from a USMNT call up? Then again, he was called into a USMNT camp so he’s in the running.

4. Steve Clark - You have to go back to the last week in March to find a Save of the Week comp that didn't have Steve Clark on it. There are more deserving goalkeepers out there for the award, but Clark is a large reason Columbus (1.08 PPG) only has a -3 goal differential and not something worse. 

5. David Ousted - Being first in shots against has its perks and by golly Ousted has had a lot of chances to redeem himself this season after the dreadful start. Whitecapers are surely appreciating Ousted’s newfound consistency but it’s been two steps forward, one step back this season for the Danish Defender (patent pending).

6. Joe Bendik - Quietly having a very solid season. So quiet, that I’m just going to link to a nice double save and move on.

7. Jake Gleeson - MLS has never had a New Zealander win GOTY and they are really overdue. Gleeson has enjoyed success in Portland, in large part, because he had such a low bar set by Kwarasey that he was told “Just don’t throw it into your own net.” (That’s not Kwarasey but it’s still a head scratcher, isn't it?) Gleeson exceeded expectations and then some. It only took three games for him to become a hero, when he single handedly salvaged a point against Toronto. If Portland can sneak into the playoffs, Gleeson will be credited with a lot of the success by MLS’s biggest little fanbase.

8. Joe Willis / Tyler Deric - I could have put Stefan Frei, Tim Melia, or maybe even Luis Robles here but both Willis and Deric have some big time narratives that likely won’t happen, but just might. Assuming Houston makes the playoffs - otherwise neither goalkeeper has a shot - Deric could be seen as the savior of the season. Unfortunately this would be at the cost of Willis’ rep, who actually played decently well during Houston’s sub-1 PPG stretch. On the other hand, if Deric goes down with another injury, Willis has the potential for an underdog story. Either way, I’ve just written far too much MLS goalkeeper fanfiction.