[MLS POSITIONAL RANKINGS: Goalkeepers] A close battle among Western Conference goalkeepers, two of which haven’t played nearly as many games as the others, puts an interesting spin on the Goalkeeper of the Year race. Statistics are quite important when assessing the play of goalkeepers, yet just as important is how much a keeper inspires his teammates by making great plays and not screwing up the simple situations.
Critical saves at important moments, and fending off a surging opponent until his teammates can come to grips with the game are hallmarks of good goalkeepers along with dealing with shots, crosses and through balls. The confidence instilled by an experienced goalkeeper like 40-year-old Faryd Mondragon in Philadelphia has helped transform that team, along with a few other key members such as defender Carlos Valdes.
Mondragon played 25 games for Philly before being sidelined with a broken finger, and while his GAA is impressive (1.06) so is the fact Philly has been able to win with youngster Zac MacMath in goal, too. Selecting the top keeper this year is complicated by the relatively low number of bad goals allowed by the top performers.
Heading into the penultimate weekend of play, 41-year-old Kasey Keller and Kevin Hartman, 37, are tied just being Mondragon for the best goals-allowed average (1.09) among goalkeepers who have played at least 2,000 minutes. Keller is also one of just four keepers to record more than 100 saves and having announced his retirement months ago, effective at the end of the season, he’ll generate votes for his incredible body of work during an incredible career along with his performances in 2011. He let in a real clunker a few weeks ago and has flapped occasionally at crosses but is nonetheless going out in style.
The lowest goals-per-game averages are held by Galaxy keepers Donovan Ricketts (0.60) and Josh Saunders (0.99). Injuries have limited Ricketts to 14 games, which opened the door for Saunders to play 18. Whether voters will “punish” Ricketts and/or Saunders or playing so few games will affect the voting.
Sometimes it doesn’t matter; the Crew’s Chad Marshall played only 19 games (of 30) in 2009 yet still repeated as Defender of the Year. But so many keepers have played so well in a greater number of games – four have played every minute, two more have missed just one game, two others have sat out two apiece – the Galaxy goalies don’t have much of a chance.
Nick Rimando of Real Salt Lake is again among the leaders in GAA (1.13) and is tied with Hartman for the lead in shutouts (12). Both of them have also been stalwart performers that kept their teams in games during scoring droughts.
There are two other keepers who were stupendous many times when their teams were overrun. Jon Busch of San Jose and Dan Kennedy of Chivas USA held firm amid some furious shelling.
A fleet of very good young goalies – Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Sean Johnson (Chicago), Tally Hall (Houston) – are waiting in the wings. So with a few more games still to go, and the playoffs also looming, here’s our finalists for Goalkeeper of the Year:
1. Kevin Hartman (FC Dallas)
2. Kasey Keller (Seattle FC)
3. Faryd Mondragon (Philadelphia)
4. Nick Rimando (RSL)
5. Dan Kennedy (Chivas USA).