The countdown to the end of the regular season -- excuse me, proper name Decision Day -- also bring forth voting for individual awards as well as the Best XI.
There’s no shortage of
candidates in each category, and starting today will be discussed the men most deserving to be named Goalkeeper of the Year, Defender of the Year, Coach of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Newcomer of
the Year, and MVP. The league hands out many more awards than these, including Comeback Player of the Year. Voting closes next Monday, after which the finalists will be announced.
league’s format permits voters to select only a winner and a runner-up, which are included along with comment regarding those individuals also worth of mention. GOALKEEPER OF THE YEAR.
“Keeping the damn ball out of the net,” is what many coaches regard as the baseline when it comes to
evaluating keepers and in many regards that is the bottom line as well.
Yet a keeper is dependent on his defense and a bit of luck as much as himself. An ugly deflection off a
centerback’s ear counts just as much as a blast into the top corner, and a team that permits too many clear opportunities will struggle to win even if it has a first-rate keeper, as D.C. United
), Orlando City (Joe Bendik
) and Philadelphia (Andre Blake
) can attest. They are among the league leaders in saves and none of their teams made the playoffs.
Beyond the obvious requirement of shot-stopping are other crucial elements: command of the penalty area through handling and collecting under pressure; footwork and reflexes; direction of the
defense; accuracy of kicking and throwing; making quick and correct decisions; and courage.
Yet perhaps the most desirable trait in a goalkeeper is reliability. Nothing deflates a team
more than a goal that should have been saved and nothing raises the spirits like a tough save at a critical moment. The keepers who stop the shots they should and also pull off an occasional
jaw-dropper are highly prized by teammates, coaches and fans.
The last two Goalkeepers of the Year, Luis Robles (2015) and Blake (2016), have been very good
this season but not quite up to the level of Tim Melia, a former league-pool goalkeeper who cut his teeth in the USL and played a few games for Chivas USA before signing with SKC near the
end of the 2014 season.
As for the overall quality of the goalkeeping, the midseason arrival of Brad Guzan is an obvious upgrade and that’s no disrespect to predecessor
Alec Kann. With Guzan in the nets, Atlanta United has posted shutouts in seven of its last nine games. The overall dominance of Supporters’ Shield winner Toronto FC has overshadowed a
fine season for Alex Bono, who took over in March when starter Clint Irwin suffered a strained hamstring and has held the job ever since.
This has been a bounce-back season
for Sean Johnson, beset by inconsistency in Chicago and very solid in his first year for NYCFC. Another in the rebound contingent is Vancouver’s David Ousted, a Goalkeeper of the
Year finalist in 2015 who suffered through a tough season as the ‘Caps plummeted to eighth last year.
Since winning the starting job in 2015, Melia, 31, has posted 26 shutouts and
registered a goals-allowed average of 1.02 in 81 appearances. This season among keepers with at least 20 games played he’s far and away the leader in GAA (0.77) and save percentage (78.4), tied
for second in shutouts (10), and tied for sixth in saves (91).
After a 1-1 tie with Columbus Sept. 10 in which Melia notched several vital saves, teammate Seth Sinovic said,
“The way we play, we like to open up and possess the ball and if we’re not good in possession, we expose ourselves. So the few times a game when we give up opportunities, he comes up big
and he’s been huge.”
The chasing pack is well behind Melia. The league’s shutout leader with 12, Stefan Frei, is third in GAA (1.13) and fifth in save percentage
(68.9). But we’ll give the second slot to Johnson, who finished fourth in GAA (1.19), fifth in saves (94), third in save percentage (70.7), and regained much of the presence and confidence shown
during his 2012 season for the Fire.
Winner: Tim Melia (Sporting Kansas City). Runner-up: Sean Johnson