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Who is MLS's best goalkeeper?
by Ridge Mahoney, November 3rd, 2009 7:01AM
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[MLS] The lowest-scoring season in MLS history (2.54 goals per game) was reflected in the stats of the top goalkeepers. For the first time, five goalies completed the season with a goals-allowed average of less than one goal a game, and one other - Donovan Ricketts of the Galaxy, one of the three MLS finalists for the league's official award - came home at just a shade higher. But has the most deserving been left off the finalists' list?

Only one of those six made more than 100 saves, and that was the Revs' Matt Reis. Playing behind a back four that included three newcomers, two of which were rookies right out of college, Reis led the league with 104 saves.

By allowing 23 goals in 24 games Reis compiled a 0.96 goals-allowed average, fourth best behind finalists Chivas USA's Zach Thornton (0.87) and Seattle's Kasey Keller (0.92), and Columbus' Will Hesmer (0.95), and just ahead of Houston's Pat Onstad, who played every minute - one of three goalies to do so - and finished at 0.97.

Those are microscopic differences -- and strong cases can be made for all of the goalies, except maybe Hesmer, who played only 19 games.

Ricketts spearheaded an amazing transformation of LA's leaky defense - goals allowed cut in half from 62 to 31 - and Keller excelled in his first MLS season. Onstad looks no different at age 41 than he has for most of this decade, which is pretty darn good.

Goalkeeping can't be boiled down to stats. The best keepers stop all the shots they should stop, don't give away cheap ones by dropping crosses or bobbling corners, and every once in a while pull off a brilliant stop.

They also inspire and direct their teammates, destroy chances before they occur by snagging or punching or parrying balls out of the air and smothering those near the ground, distribute efficiently, and extend their range outside the penalty area to deal with through balls with the feet or even the head.

In the six games Reis didn't play, the Revs conceded 14 goals, an average of more than two per game. By leading the league in saves playing on an injury-decimated team that was the only one to make the playoffs with a negative goal difference, Reis did the most to help his team get results.

MLS finalists: Kasey Keller (Seattle), Donovan Ricketts (Los Angeles), Zach Thornton (Chivas USA).

Ridge Mahoney's pick: Matt Reis (New England).

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