[BEST OF MLS 2011: Goalkeepers] The veteran of two decades of professional play finished his three-year stint in MLS as Goalkeeper of the Year and No. 1 in the Positional Rankings.
SA's Top 10 Goalkeepers
1. Kasey Keller (Seattle)
2. Kevin Hartman (FC Dallas)
3. Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
4. Tally Hall (Houston)
5. Faryd Mondragon (Philadelphia)
6. Josh Saunders (Los Angeles)
7. Jimmy Nielsen (Sporting Kansas City)
8. Dan Kennedy (Chivas USA)
9. Jon Busch (San Jose)
10. Matt Pickens (Colorado)
Anytime a keeper’s goals-allowed average hovers just above one per game, he and his teammates are getting it done. A half-dozen goalies posted averages in that range this season, and so solid was the Galaxy’s defense that it conceded only 28 goals in 34 games, so both Saunders and Donovan Ricketts posted marks under 1.00. While keeping the ball out of the net is job one, a top keeper does much more.
Rating keepers requires delving into other stats, such as percentage of shots saved, as well as assessing the subtleties of organizing the defense, commanding the penalty area, dealing with shots and crosses, and distributing the ball. The best keepers stop the shots they should stop and every once in a while pull off the sensational save, and by those standards Keller wins a very tight race to top the table.
Keller may have been a sentimental favorite for his exploits during a long career, and he conceded a very ugly own goal by batting a cross into his own net, yet he also finished third in saves (110) with a 1.09 average (fifth) and nine shutouts (tied for third). He was simply brilliant in several games, such as against San Jose at CenturyLink Field when he stymied the Quakes with a quadruple save as the Brougham End faithful roared him on.
Hartman and Rimando tied for the individual lead in shutouts (13) and Rimando conceded one more goal (36 to 35) as two of the league’s all-time best maintained their very high standards. In his first year as a starter, Hall played every minute and rode out a rough stretch to record 99 saves during the regular season and concede just two goals in four playoff games.
Mondragon’s poise and presence helped transform Philly from an expansion-year sieve to one of the league’s stingiest teams: only the Galaxy conceded fewer than its 36 goals. Saunders took over superbly (23 games, 0.93 average, 55 saves, eight shutouts) when a broken arm sidelined Ricketts; he and the Galaxy won MLS Cup, and Ricketts was traded to Montreal. Nielsen, signed to replace Hartman prior to the 2010 season, is an excellent shot-stopper who errs only rarely.
Kennedy’s sharp work (1.22 average, 100 saves, nine shutouts) at times single-handedly kept Chivas USA in the playoff race until the final weeks. Busch, a.k.a. The Bard of Bombardment, led MLS in saves (114) and did post-game interviews dazed from surviving yet another barrage. Pickens, underrated for most of his career, also played every minute as the Rapids slipped off their perch as 2010 champions.
Two very promising young goalies, Bill Hamid (D.C. United) and Sean Johnson (Chicago), are very close to cracking the top tier. The keys for them will be consistency and getting a little tougher to beat in each game.