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MLS Positional Rankings: Veteran keepers maintain hold on top spots
by Ridge Mahoney, December 16th, 2013 4:17PM

TAGS:  mls, portland timbers


By Ridge Mahoney

Despite a fleet of promising young keepers, MLS again confirmed the belief that experience is invaluable.

The 2013 positional rankings list a bunch of over-30s in the top slots as well as acknowledging the exploits of a 24-year-old who in his first MLS season sent another long-time veteran to the bench. It doesn’t seem likely that any of the younger keepers will emerge as top dog in the next season or two, though Tally Hall and Sean Johnson hope to push through that barrier sooner rather than later.

Many goalkeeper stats -- goals-allowed average, saves, shutouts -- are a function of team play, yet denying the opposition by smothering through balls and dealing with crosses is often as valuable as coming up with the big saves. The rankings here are based only on MLS play; goalies who sat out significant portions of the season because of injuries or poor form are downgraded.

Keepers who played less than one-half of their team’ regular-season games are excluded. In his final season New England’s Matt Reis compiled a remarkable 0.72 goals-allowed average in 12 appearances, and Jaime Penedo gave the Galaxy an upgrade despite playing just nine regular-season games.

SA's Top 10 MLS Goalkeepers (2013)
1. (NR) Donovan Ricketts (Portland Timbers)
2. (2) Jimmy Nielsen (Sporting KC)
3. (3) Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
4. (-) Clint Irwin (Colorado Rapids)
5. (6) Jon Busch (San Jose Earthquakes)
6. (5) Tally Hall (Houston Dynamo)
7. (NR) Zac MacMath (Philadelphia Union)
8. (NR) Luis Robles (New York Red Bulls)
9. (2) Michael Gspurning (Seattle Sounders)
10. (7) Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire)
Note: In parentheses 2012 ranking at position.
NR=not ranked in 2012; -=not in MLS in 2012.

Donovan Ricketts wasn’t quite as crisp in the playoffs as he’d been during the regular season but consistently by his prowess prevented defeats, which is one reason Portland registered just five of them. At 36, he’s not the most agile keeper yet he pulled off some truly remarkable saves this season and just as importantly stopped the shots he should have. He also played the most minutes (2880) of his five-year MLS career.

Jimmy Nielsen closed out his four-year MLS stint by winning a title and heading straight into retirement. The 2012 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year and the SKC fan base bonded enthusiastically; his replacement must clear a very high bar. Nick Rimando, 34, just keeps on ticking and shows few signs of slipping from his excellent standards.

Clint Irwin, 24, jumped right into MLS from USL PRO and took the No. 1 job from veteran Matt Pickens after an impressive preseason trial. He showed good range and poise as well as shot-stopping ability. Busch finished third in save percentage (71.1) as the Quakes rebounded from a poor start to narrowly miss the playoffs. Hall played every minute of every game for the second time in three seasons.

As did the Union, Zac MacMath fought through a few rocky stretches yet in his second full season as a starter reduced the goals-allowed average (1.29) and increased the shutouts (12). Luis Robles gave the Red Bulls a string of good games and perhaps justified the team’s use of an allocation to get him in August, 2012. Michael Gspurning slipped drastically after July and shared blame for Seattle’s late-season fizzle; he and the team parted shortly after elimination in the playoffs. Johnson is consistently pretty good but has yet to hit the next level and still takes up poor positions on angled shots.
SA's Best Goalkeepers (2000-13)
2013 Donovan Ricketts
2012 Jimmy Nielsen
2011 Kasey Keller
2010 Kevin Hartman
2009 Matt Reis
2008 Jon Busch
2007 Brad Guzan
2006 Matt Reis
2005 Pat Onstad
2004 Joe Cannon
2003 Pat Onstad
2002 Kevin Hartman
2001 Tim Howard
2000 Tony Meola
1999 Kevin Hartman
1998 Zach Thornton
1997 Walter Zenga
1996 Brad Friedel

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