28 March 2012

16 American goalkeepers you may need to know

A line caught my attention in an Associated Press story on the U.S. U-23s’ ouster:

"And goalkeeper, long a strength of the Americans, is now a potential problem area. Given the struggles of Hamid and Johnson, 41-year-old Spurs goalkeeper Brad Friedel might be brought out of national team retirement in the event of an injury to U.S. starter Tim Howard."

Future U.S. national team goalkeeper?
The first mistaken assumption is that Hamid and Johnson are the primary backups to Tim Howard, when it's clearly Brad Guzan. But the overall trend is something I’ve heard a decent amount lately: the American goalkeeper well is drying up. I don’t think of the U.S. as being short on goalkeepers, but it's true that there is no real pecking order behind Howard and Guzan. If you had to pick a starter other than those two, it would make you nervous. But I think it is inaccurate to decry the future of American goalkeepers.

Goalkeepers tend to develop and excel later in their careers than field players. There are many reasons for this – maturity, decision-making, need for repetitions among them – but it’s pretty standard logic. So writing off the entire goalkeeping pool because the U-23 goalkeepers underperformed is not fair.

So if they're not U-23s, what age are the United States' backup goalkeepers, typically? In this piece, I’m going to reference the age a goalkeeper turns in a World Cup year, even if he won’t turn that age until after the World Cup. So in 2014, Tim Howard will turn 35 and Brad Guzan will turn 30. Those are the top two U.S. goalkeepers. Others who have appeared in a game or on the U.S. bench in this World Cup cycle are: Marcus Hahnemann (will turn 42 in 2014), Bill Hamid (24), Nick Rimando (35), Sean Johnson (25), David Yelldell (33), and Dominic Cervi (28).

Looking back at the past two World Cup cycles, with World Cup goalkeepers bolded, the five most-used goalkeepers in those cycles and their ages in the World Cup year have been:
2010: Howard (31), Guzan (26), Perkins (29), Keller (41), Hahnemann (38)
2006: Keller (37), Howard (27), Hartman (32), Hahnemann (34), Walker (32)

So the starter tends to be a 30-something with experience in big European leagues, the backup a promising 20-something who's in a big European league, while the No. 3 is a solid veteran who won't mind being No. 3 (a position started by Tony Meola in 2002 and continued with Marcus Hahnemann at the last two World Cups).

So for 2014, unless we think Marcus Hahnemann intends to keep going until age 42, the U.S. is in search of a No. 3 goalkeeper. The most obvious choice from this cycle is Nick Rimando, who will turn 35 in 2014, or David Yelldell, who will turn 33. But neither has the pedigree of Meola or Hahnemann, so I would not be surprised to see Juergen Klinsmann opt for a younger No. 3 goalkeeper. Some of the guys on this list seem to have a shot at that role.

2018 is a different story. It's a long way away, but Guzan (34) is the presumable starter. That makes the question mark the No. 2 and No. 3 positions, and this is what I think U.S. fans are talking about when they worry about goalkeeping: Who will be that experienced No. 2 who doesn’t make your heart stop when he has to play in a World Cup qualifier in 2016 or 2017?

It’s way too early to say, of course, and predicting how a player will develop over the next 2-6 years is not my specialty. But if you’re wondering about the future U.S. No. 2 goalkeeper, it could be one of the 16 listed here. (I excluded 'keepers who will be 33 or older in 2014. Sorry, guys.). Candidates, with age for 2014/2018 in parentheses:

The Favorites
1. Dominic Cervi (28/32) [pictured above] – This is an interesting one. He’s 6-foot-6, which always catches your attention, and has been touted for years, yet he has not seen minutes at Celtic in Scotland and seems third-choice at the moment. Still, being with a European club has seemed very attractive to most national-team coaches.
2. Zac MacMath (23/27) – Starting at a very young age, he has already had major struggles this year, and I've been among those criticizing Peter Nowak for turning the spot over to him. But if he can get over the hump with his confidence intact, the minutes he’s getting and the lessons he's learning are very valuable.
3. Sean Johnson (25/29) – He was thrown into a starting role well before he was ready and will now have to compete with the so-far impressive Paolo Tornaghi. His response to the El Salvador match (and if he continues to start over Tornaghi) will dictate his future.
4. Bill Hamid (24/28) – I’ve never been sold on him, fundamentally or in a leadership capacity, but Hamid clearly has the confidence of Klinsmann, and he's in the right age group (mid-late 20s) and on the right track (starting at an early age) to develop into an above-average goalkeeper.

Should get a chance
5. Tally Hall (29/33) – I’m a little biased here, but Hall has the size, reflexes, and confidence to really make a team feel comfortable with him at the back. With Houston’s defense as strong as it is, he might become the leading MLS candidate this year and could even be a darkhorse to get called in ahead of Rimando if Howard or Guzan picks up an injury.
6. Jon Kempin (21/25) – Still only 18 at the moment, Kempin impressed me at the Disney Pro Soccer Classic and has the confidence of Kansas City coaches as the current No. 2 due to Eric Kronberg’s injury issues. KC starter Jimmy Nielsen told me Kempin would play for the U.S. (and even made a gambling joke about it). Kempin's performance in the next Olympic qualifying cycle (as a ’93, he’s age-eligible for 2016) could boost him onto the senior stage.
7. Dan Kennedy (32/36) – Unfortunately for Kennedy, he might be caught at what some would consider an advanced age, but the Chivas USA starter has been consistent over the last few years and probably deserves some some national team minutes.
8. Cody Cropper (21/25) – He just turned 19, but already 6-foot-3 and currently signed with Ipswich in England, he’ll obviously jump into the picture if he can start to get some minutes. Easier said than done, however.

Long shots
9. Ryan Meara (24/28) – Kind of weird to include a guy with three professional games and no shutouts on the list, but starting in MLS fresh out of college is not bad, and playing in New Jersey should get him plenty of attention.
10. Tyler Deric (26/30) – One of the more promising MLS backups, Deric led the MLS Reserve League with six shutouts in 10 games last year for Houston and is two-for-two this year. After missing the 2012 Olympic cutoff by less than four months, he’ll need first-team playing time to get a look.
11. Samir Badr (22/26) – Still only 19, the D.C. United Academy product hasn’t made his senior debut after time in the youth ranks at Porto or with the first team at Haras El Hodood in Egypt, but he has an excellent reputation.
12. Joe Willis (26/30)  - Another guy with limited MLS experience (5 games, 2 shutouts), but he has good size and could get a sustained run of minutes if Hamid's ankle injury keeps him out.
13. David Bingham (25/29) – He was probably the fourth goalkeeper in the U.S. U-23 rotation this year but has impressed San Jose coaches enough to move into the Earthquakes’ No. 2 slot. Again, he’ll need minutes.
14. Luis Robles (30/34) – Did not inspire confidence in the 2009 Gold Cup, but he has played regularly in Europe. A move back to MLS fell through this offseason, but playing in Germany could help his case under Klinsmann.
15. Diego Restrepo (26/30) – Basically ignored by MLS, the former UVA standout is playing with Deportivo Táchira in his native Venezuela and will need minutes soon to challenge the younger players already mentioned.
16. Joe Bendik (25/29) – I hadn’t heard of the Portland Timbers backup either until a few weeks ago, but John Spencer gave him a strong recommendation after signing him on the strength of a standout career at Clemson and some meaningful minutes in Norway.

In MLS, I think Nick Rimando (35/39), William Hesmer (33/37), and Andy Gruenebaum (32/36) will not be long-term factors, but you never know. Josh Saunders (33/37) of the LA Galaxy is cap-tied to Puerto Rico, and 6-foot-6 Colorado Rapids backup Steward Ceus (27/31) plays for Haiti. Colorado starter Matt Pickens (32/36) and Portland’s Troy Perkins (33/37) have struggled lately. Backups Kyle Reynish (31/35) and Eric Kronberg (31/35) both need playing time.

Just for fun, here are some other U.S. goalkeepers playing abroad, most according to Yanks-Abroad.com:
Colin Burns (32/36) (Sarpsborg 08 FF Norway); Steve Clark (28/32) (Honefoss Norway); Brian Edwards (30/34) (Degerfors IF Sweden); Jesus Guzman (21/25) (Santos Mexico); Jimmy Maurer (Universidad de Concepcion Chile); Daniel Medina (21/25) (Tigres Mexico); Caleb Patterson-Sewell (27/31) (Atletico CP Portugal); Matt Pyzdrowski (28/32) (Angelholms Sweden); Josh Wicks (33/37) (Mariehamn Finland); Quentin Westberg (Evian France); Kellan Wilson (33/37) (Ykkonen Finland); David Yelldell (Bayer Leverkusen Germany)

What do you think? Am I way off base? What goalkeeper(s) do you expect to see in the U.S. national-team nets over the next six years?

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