[MLS] So many goalies are so closely bunched statistically that this year’s voting for Goalkeeper of the Year could go to any one of a half-dozen candidates.
SA's top five goalies:
1. Donovan Ricketts (Los Angeles)
2. Will Hesmer (Columbus)
3. Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
4. Kevin Hartman (FC Dallas)
5. Matt Pickens (Colorado)
Topping the chase for Goalkeeper of the Year are those men who play for the conference leaders. In soccer, defense means more than good goalkeeping, yet not without relevance are the rankings of No. 1 Donovan Ricketts of Los Angeles and No. 3 Will Hesmer of Columbus. (We’ll get to No. 2 in a minute). Ricketts (0.59) and Hesmer (0.76) are both on pace to best the goals-allowed average record set by Pat Onstad of Houston in 2007 (0.82).
Also conceding less than a goal per game are RSL keeper Nick Rimando (0.82) and Rapids goalie Matt Pickens (0.93), who has helped stabilize a Rapids defensive system that looked very shaky last year and has undergone considerable renovation.
And then there's a familiar face in a new place. Since moving to Dallas from Kansas City, for which he played every minute the past three seasons, veteran Kevin Hartman has compiled some impressive numbers: five shutouts in 12 games, a 0.67 goals-allowed average, and a won-lost record of 6-1-5. That last mark is attached to goalkeepers arbitrarily, but a keeper who has stopped all but eight of 43 shots on goal is doing something right.
There’s been notable improvement this year for Stefan Frei (Toronto FC) and erratic Bouna Coundoul (New York). Frei (1.13) has eradicated many of the errors that plagued him as a rookie last year, and Coundoul (1.19) is providing the same measure of amazingly athletic saves with fewer boneheaded screwups, as he did in 2008 when New York reached MLS Cup.
Dazzling saves excite fans and broadcasters, yet the truest tests of a keeper is how well he commands his penalty area and handles all but the toughest shots. Nothing deflates a team more than a wayward charge that leaves an open net for an opponent to tap into, or a clumsy fumble of a savable attempt.
The low numbers posted by many keepers this season are a function of efficient team defending as well as relatively solid performance by the men in the nets. But even the best goalies are subject to gaffes, such as the awkward parry by which Rimando deflected an FC Dallas shot under his body and into the net last weekend.
Like the goals-allowed average, a keeper’s shutout total is just as much a team statistic. Ricketts leads the way with nine, Hesmer has eight, Rimando seven. Three other keepers each have six.
Two of the league’s best goalies, Onstad (1.47) and Kasey Keller of Seattle (1.39), are lagging statistically so far this season. Not surprisingly, both teams are currently out of the playoff octet. Last year’s Goalkeeper of the Year, Zach Thornton, is down the list as well with a 1.29 average and only two shutouts.
Two other contenders, Matt Reis and Joe Cannon, are in unfamiliar situations. Reis recently returned to the nets after a long layoff due to injuries, two-time winner Cannon has lost the San Jose starter’s job to the 2008 Goalkeeper of the Year, Jon Busch.
So in some regard there’s been significant change, yet it’s still a case that MLS teams can’t flourish without excellent goalkeeping.