What is Goals Saved Above Replacement?

cover photo belongs to Jeff Swinger/USA Today Sports

Goals Saved Above Replacement was first created back in 2013. Originally a stat that was solely eye-test related, it has since grown to a series of formulas building off the idea of comparing one goalkeeper action against a standard average. For example, if a goalkeeper is scored on in a certain situation, GSAR gauges how difficult the shot was and the percent chance an average MLS goalkeeper would save the attempt on goal. Across a variety of other situations a goalkeeper faces, GSAR finds the goals saved in comparison to a replacement player. If the number is large, the goalkeeper saved several goals and did an outstanding job. The farther a goalkeeper’s GSAR is below zero, the worse they have performed. An even “0” represents a score a replacement player would earn.

What makes GSAR any different than another goalkeeping metric?

There are two main differences. First, GSAR is an all-encompassing statistic. While most goalkeeping stats are centered solely around shot-stopping, GSAR takes into account crossing, handling abilities, distribution, slotted balls, and other situations that don’t fit in a save percentage model. In each situation, the goalkeeper’s actions are based off expectations from an average of season performances. For example, completed and incompleted passes are weighted according to the chance of goal creation, whether for the goalkeeper’s team or the opposing one.

The second main difference is found in the shot-stopping element. When considering the few advanced shot-stopping statistics out there, they are still handcuffed by the problem of looking at where the shot enters the goal, as opposed to where the ball passes a goalkeeper’s line of attack. If a goalkeeper gets scored on from atop the 18 into an upper corner but the goalkeeper is at the penalty spot (only six yards from the shooter), then the ball passed the goalkeeper at a much closer distance than where the ball entered the goalmouth. Along with tracking the speed of the shot, GSAR helps understand the difficulty of a shot more accurately through reaction time and the distance from ball-to-goalkeeper.

What categories does GSAR track?

GSAR is built to value every touch a goalkeeper makes. To make it easy to digest for readers, we’ll use the 2018 goals saved as a starting point.

Each MLS goalkeeper has had their season broken down into seven categories.

1. Shots <10 - The first two columns are shots from inside and outside ten yards. The distance measured is from the shooter to the goalkeeper, not the shooter to the goal.

While traditional expected goal models focus on a shooter’s location on the field, GSAR focuses on different criteria: where the shot passes the goalkeeper and how long the goalkeeper had to react.

A shot’s difficulty is not deemed by where it enters the goalmouth but how far the ball was from the goalkeeper when it intersected the goalkeeper’s dive line. This angle is affected by a goalkeeper’s starting position as well as where the shooter is located on the field. If a shot is taken near the end line, the ball will pass the goalkeeper within a few feet even if it is hit the upper corner. Similarly, if a goalkeeper is closer to the shooter, they “cut down the angle” and cover more of the goalmouth, putting the ball’s path closer to their body.

2. Shots >10 - While the first category is largely impacted by a goalkeeper’s reaction abilities, the second has more emphasis on a goalkeeper’s ability to move his feet and general angle play. Typically older goalkeepers perform well with farther shots and struggle on close-range ones, while younger goalkeepers are the reverse.

3. Penalties - Penalties aren’t a large part of the MLS season - only occurring once every six or seven games - but they do carry a heavy weight. On average a penalty has a success rate of around 80% and can severely boost or tank a goalkeeper’s GSAR.

4. Crossing - This category takes into account if a goalkeeper punched, claimed, or (for a negative value) let a cross drop in a position they should have challenged for. The position has recently seen a swing towards favoring passive goalkeeping when it comes to crosses, which explains the relatively low ratings.

5. Error - Covering many different areas, only negative numbers will be found here. This can include gifting a poor rebound to the opposition, giving away a penalty, or other actions that result in creating another chance on goal.

6. Misc. - The miscellaneous tallies cover any non-tradition goalkeeping action. Slotted balls back to the center of the box are the most common, as well as any actions that don’t fit a proper formula, which are entered in by hand. Unique shot deflections and 1v1 situations (amongst other actions) can be found here. While hand-adjusted values aren’t ideal, they help cover bizarre situations that a formula doesn’t work for. These situations make up less than .1% of all goalkeeping actions.

7. Passing - Passing stats consider how often and where a goalkeeper completes a pass as well as where turnovers occur. A turnover at the other side of the field is negligible, while a turnover in front of one’s own goal returns a larger negative value.

Minutes and average GSAR/90 minutes are tacked on at the end.

Projected Salaries Based Off of GSAR

There are many hurdles to tacking a dollar amount to a goalkeeper’s GSAR. For starters, identifying a baseline or replacement-level for MLS goalkeepers is tricky with salaries and talent levels constantly swelling over the past twenty years. Matching a “0 GSAR” goalkeeper with the median salary of MLS goalkeepers in 2018 ($132,625.00) proved to be the easiest route. Using this standard, we’ll take a look at seven different categories to obtain an overall GSAR rating, as well as put a dollar amount on each MLS goalkeeper’s performance from 2018.

Howard’s multi-million DP salary and GSAR were excluded for normalcy’s sake.

Howard’s multi-million DP salary and GSAR were excluded for normalcy’s sake.

Another challenge when considering this method is recognizing one team’s willingness to spend high on goalkeeping doesn’t necessarily mean the rest of the league will. To find a fair expected payment, the salaries and GSARs were listed in descending order to find a trend between the two. This brings up certain issues but overall it puts every goalkeeper on an even playing field when it comes to receiving payment for their services.

As some goalkeepers didn’t play the whole season - whether due to injury or a coach’s decision - finding a projected dollar amount would either have to extrapolate a goalkeeper’s stats for a full 34 game season or shrink down the corresponding payment. For example, Attinella only played two-thirds of the season but compiled a 4.74 GSAR. Should his projected GSAR-based salary be off what he could have done over 34 games or should it account for only the games he played? With a goalkeeper’s true impact being dependent on what they can bring to the field every game, I opted to extrapolate the dollar amount out to 34 games.

Categories are explained in more detail below. Goalkeepers are sorted by the difference ($$.diff) in their projected payment minus their actual. “$$.diff” is not what goalkeepers deserved to be paid, simply just the difference between actual and deserved.

1. m.GSAR/gm - Simply dividing a goalkeeper’s GSAR over the minutes they played, unless the goalkeeper played less than 900 minutes in the season. If this was the case, a goalkeeper was given either a positive or negative .03, depending on their GSAR. It’s not a great siphoning method, but +/- .03 keeps backup goalkeepers’ GSARs from getting out of hand with such a small sample size.

2. adj.GSAR - What a goalkeeper’s GSAR would have been had they played all 34 games (3060 minutes, excluding stoppage time).

3. gsar.$$ - How much a goalkeeper deserves to be paid, converted from a goalkeepers’ adj.GSAR. The conversation formula is based on the previous orange and white graph.

4. $$.diff - Goalkeepers are sorted by this column, which simply subtracts real.$$ from gsar.$$. Tyler Miller was underpaid by $333,503 while Andre Blake was overpaid by $410,805.

Have any questions? Head over to the contact page for any specific inquiries.

2019 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year

cover photo by Craig Mitchelldyer

What is Goals Saved Above Replacement? Click here to find out.

Following last year’s goalkeeper race, this year’s battle for best goalkeeper in the league has been highlighted by underdogs and coming-off-the-bench goalkeepers. Early into the season, Maxime Crepeau (6.27) broke away from the pack as the lead candidate but Steve Clark (8.45) and Matt Turner’s (6.82) furious back half of the season saw a close finish between the three goalkeepers. Ultimately Steve Clark earned top of the chart honors, averaging out to an outstanding +.35 per 90 minutes and clearing second-place Matt Turner by 1.63 goals.

Clark and Turner weren’t the only goalkeepers who saw a strong second-half performance during the season. After a lackluster start, both David Bingham (5.55) and Luis Robles (4.36) displayed a dramatic improvement in goal, saving their teams multiple goals in the closing months. National team goalkeepers were mostly positive in MLS play. Sean Johnson (3.43) and Tim Howard (3.13) were consistently above average while Brad Guzan (0.59) and Nick Rimando (-1.91) bounced around the 0 mark for most the season.

Lastly, teams that made the biggest bang for their buck were, to no surprise, found with the top three goalkeepers. New England’s Matt Turner and Portland’s Steve Clark performed at a rate that warranted $1.4 million dollar salaries but were on $75,398 and $140,000 contracts, respectively. Maxime Crepeau gave a $740,000-worthy season as well, but only received $94,083 guaranteed compensation. Inversely, Bill Hamid, Vito Mannone, Andre Blake and others struggled to make up their six-figure contracts, playing at a fraction of their cost.

For more detail statistics on each goalkeeper, click here to view the web page which breaks down each goalkeeper’s contributions into seven categories, week-by-week performances, and how much they deserve to be paid.

RankGSARKeeperTeam Mins GSAR/90
1 8.21 Steve Clark POR 2160 0.34
2 8.02 Matt Turner NE 1766 0.41
3 7.18 Maxime Crepeau VAN 2340 0.28
4 5.60 David Bingham LAG 2970 0.17
5 5.18 Luis Robles RBNY 2970 0.16
6 4.97 Sean Johnson NYC 2610 0.17
7 4.04 Tim Melia SKC 2880 0.13
8 2.99 Tim Howard CLR 2205 0.12
9 2.81 Tyler Miller LAFC 2520 0.10
10 2.23 Evan Bush MON 2880 0.07
11 2.17 Brian Rowe OCSC 2880 0.07
12 2.06 Brad Guzan ATL 3060 0.06
13 1.33 Bill Hamid DC 2970 0.04
14 0.18 Vito Mannone MIN 3060 0.01
15 0.02 Quentin Westberg TOR 2520 0.00
16 -0.25 Kenneth Kronholm CHC 1800 -0.01
17 -0.85 Daniel Vega SJ 3060 -0.03
18 -1.34 Stefan Frei SEA 3060 -0.04
19 -1.42 Spencer Richey CIN 1710 -0.07
20 -1.55 Jose Luis Gonzalez FCD 2880 -0.05
21 -1.90 Nick Rimando RSL 2610 -0.07
22 -2.84 Andre Blake PHI 2286 -0.11
23 -3.93 Joe Willis HOU 2430 -0.15
- 2.77 Zac MacMath VAN 720 0.35
- 2.09 Clint Irwin CLR 945 0.20
- 1.34 David Ousted CHC 1260 0.10
- 1.34 Carlos PHI 319 0.38
- 1.03 Brad Stuver NYC 450 0.21
- 0.94 Pablo Sisniega LAFC 540 0.16
- 0.79 Eloy Room CLB 1080 0.07
- 0.32 Andrew Putna RSL 450 0.06
- 0.21 Adrian Zendejas SKC 90 0.21
- 0.19 Jimmy Maurer FCD 180 0.10
- 0.10 Jeff Attinella POR 900 0.01
- -0.14 Chris Seitz DCU 90 -0.14
- -0.14 Matt Lampson LAG 90 -0.14
- -0.22 Greg Ranjitsingh OCSC 180 -0.11
- -0.38 Eric Dick SKC 90 -0.38
- -0.42 Jon Kempin CLB 270 -0.14
- -0.44 Clement Diop MON 180 -0.22
- -0.48 Ryan Meara RBNY 90 -0.48
- -1.17 Zack Steffen CLB 1170 -0.09
- -1.16 Brad Knighton NE 664 -0.16
- -1.38 Alex Bono TOR 630 -0.20
- -1.46 Matt Freese PHI 455 -0.29
- -1.73 Tyler Deric HOU 630 -0.25
- -1.88 Cody Cropper NE 630 -0.27
- -3.24 Joe Bendik CLB 540 -0.54
- -4.84 Przemyslaw Tyton CIN 1350 -0.32

Goalkeepers not given a rank in the first column (starting with Zac MacMath and Clint Irwin) were excluded from the rankings for not playing half the games in the season.

The Next Step: Emily Armstrong

Emily Armstrong is finishing her third year in Europe, this year with Swedish second division club Sundsvall. Armstrong previously was a three-year starter at UConn, before traveling to Norway, Iceland, and finally to her current club in Sweden. A starter at each club she played for, Armstrong wraps up the Next Step series by recapping her journey to this point as well as how where her focus is moving forward.

The Next Step is a three-part series. Click here to read the other two installments.

When did you first have the thought, “Yeah, I can play professionally in Europe?”

It was right after my final college season. A friend reached out and asked what I thought about playing in Norway. The thought both excited and scared me a little. Living in another country sounded awesome. But the idea of being an ocean away from family and friends was a bit daunting. I suddenly realized playing overseas was a real option for me. It wasn’t until a few months later when I started chatting with Medkila, however, that I knew it was something I was ready to pursue.

How would you describe the culture surrounding Sundsvall?

Teams typically don’t pay foreign players to come in and sit. There is an immediate respect for foreign players in some ways, and the expectation that you’ll make an immediate impact. I have found the coaches, players, and staff in Sundsvall to be quite welcoming and supportive.

Photo credit: Ruben Lamers

Photo credit: Ruben Lamers

Does playing overseas help your resume when trying to return to the US to play in the NWSL?

I believe playing overseas has certainly helped build my resume. One of my original goals playing in Europe was to gain experience that would make me a more marketable keeper in any league in the world – including the NWSL. That said, I have truly enjoyed living and playing in Europe, and experiencing the unique cultures of Norway, Iceland, and Sweden.

How has your game changed since playing in college?

The mental side of my game has changed immensely. When football becomes a job, there is more pressure to perform. It has certainly been a challenge over the past few years, in that I’ve not experienced the level of team success I enjoyed at UConn.* But I have discovered there are important lessons to be learned in both wins and losses – opportunities for personal growth and development.

Technically, I believe every aspect of my game has improved. Most notably, my game in the air – coming off my line explosively and holding the ball in traffic. (Things can get pretty physical here in Sweden!) I’ve also taken my short and long kicking game to another level. All of my game experience has really helped with my decision making – making the right read early on.

* Armstrong compiled a 54-18-4 record during her four years at UConn.

By the end of your career, what would you be disappointed with yourself if you hadn’t accomplished it?

In my fifth-grade yearbook, I stated that my favorite food was grilled cheese and that I wanted to be a professional soccer player when I grew up. To be honest, though, it really wasn’t until my college career ended that I realized playing professionally was what I wanted.

Jürgen Klopp wrote a piece for The Players’ Tribune recently in which he stated that “football is not life or death.” This really resonated with me. My football journey itself is, in a sense, the end goal for me. I am enjoying my experience as a professional athlete right now, right here in Sundsvall. There are only a finite number of years we have to play this game. If we focus solely on opportunities that may or may not arise in the future, we risk missing out on what is happening today.

So, for now, I am focused on becoming a better football player, helping my team succeed, and really embracing this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play in Europe.

The Next Step: Lindsey Harris

Lindsey Harris is a UNC alum, finishing her senior year in the 2016 Fall season. After a year in Iceland with FH, she moved to Klepp and prompted notched a second-place finish in the table, earning a spot in the UEFA Champions League. Now heading towards the end of her third year in Europe, Harris recaps her try overseas and what her goals are moving forward.

The Next Step is a three-part series. Click here to read the other two installments.

When did you first have the thought, “Yeah, I can play professionally in Europe?”

I wasn’t thinking much about next moves after college until I finished my last game at UNC in December of 2016. Then I got an email from an agent saying he had a team for me overseas. I was weighing my options between staying in the U.S. or going to Europe and [UNC head coach] Anson Dorrance had some great advice for me. He said wherever I go, I need to play. With this jump from college to pro, it’s a huge developmental period where you need to gain experience and I found that opportunity in Europe so I took it. I am so glad I did as well, because it has been a great experience in terms of soccer, but socially as well! I made the decision in January 2017 just before the college draft to play in Iceland. I have been at Klepp in Norway the last 2 years.


How would you describe the culture surrounding Klepp?

Well, first of all, Klepp is a small farm town far from any major city. You can walk from end to end in about 10 minutes. So that was a big culture shock coming here considering I am used to Austin, TX and the triangle region of North Carolina. That being said, because it is small and the fact that most of the Norwegians on the team are from the surrounding area, it is truly one big family. Our coach here has done a great job in creating a culture of communication, togetherness, and respect in the locker room. Even though everyone has their own lives and lives separately, I never expected a professional team to be this close-knit.

I returned for a second year with this same team because of the professional and human respect we all have for each other, it has truly been a great experience. Being foreigners, it can be hard to not know anybody or know your surroundings well, but everyone here has been so welcoming. We socialize with everyone outside of trainings often and with us Americans living together, we’ve managed to create a nice life for ourselves here in this little Norwegian town. Undesired trades within the league here are far less common, so you can focus less on worrying about how quickly you can be removed from the squad, and focus more on developing yourself within the team and the chemistry with your teammates. Yes, the crowds here are smaller, but the fans are incredible just the same.


Does playing overseas help your resume when trying to return to the US to play in the NWSL?

I believe that it does. Young goalkeepers fresh out of college might find themselves on the bench for the first few years in the NWSL, which can be a waste and without that game experience, when they do get their chance, they might not be ready. Going overseas, I have started every game and played every minute for three years now in a professional environment. I have over 70 professional starts, which is rare in 3 years in the NWSL. The league here in Norway is well-thought-of and my current club is ranked 33rd in all of Europe. I am playing against good talents from various national teams so I think that an NWSL team should take that into account when reading my resume and watching my highlights. I plan to play in the NWSL next year.


How has your game changed since playing in college?

One of the biggest changes from college in the pro league here in Norway, especially on this team, is that we want to play out of the back. We pride ourselves in it. I barely drop kick anymore, so I’ve had to get more and more precise with my distribution under pressure, both short and long because I am heavily involved in the buildup and we often get pressed. Although I have always been good with my feet, my distribution accuracy and composure have improved immensely. My communication has improved as well. I have become more commanding and concise in my connection with the backline. Lastly, I find myself playing a higher and higher line each year, getting that much more comfortable reading attacks and stopping them before they become dangerous. 


By the end of your career, what would you be disappointed with yourself if you hadn’t accomplished it?

I have to admit, I would be disappointed if I never started in the NWSL and had lots of success there. I mean, who wouldn’t want to play in their home country, possibly even home state, in front of your family and friends who have watched you grow into the player you are today? I just think that would be cool. I would also be disappointed if I never got called into the national team. My long term goal is to play for my country. I want to be playing as long as I possibly can, so anything less than a long, successful career would disappoint me.