I was going to wait until next week to post but with Howard's announcement of taking off time with the national team I was called into duty. Everyone is comparing his taking of leave to Donovan's sabbatical last year, which my thoughts on that subject are that is a really boring topic to spend time on.
So moving on, where does that leave the US? Howard has said that he is planning to return in September 2015, after the 2015 Gold Cup but well before the 2016 Copa America. Even though the winner of the 2013 Gold Cup didn't receive a bid to the following Confederations Cup, the US did fine without Howard in goal. Nick Rimando played very well in the five games he started in and even Sean Johnson held the fort down against Costa Rica. In World Cup Qualifying, Brad Guzan held up his end in by shutting out Mexico and Costa Rica. So we shouldn't be worried about his absence affecting the USMNT. However, there are two situations that are a little murky.
1. Who moves up on the depth chart? Make no mistake, a shaky goalkeeper will not make the World Cup roster. We saw Klinsmann dispel the myth of taking a younger player for experience by selecting Rimando over Sean Johnson as well as Tony Meola being the third stringer in 2002 when a then twenty-three year old goalie named Tim Howard was vying for the last spot. But the US has some time on their hands to figure out who will go in 2018. The goalkeepers we see in the next year should be ones that put the US in a position to win and can contribute to the next cycle. Rimando might help in the 2015 Gold Cup but I don't think he will still be competing for a roster spot in 2018 when he is 39. So who's left?
The popular selections are Bill Hamid, Sean Johnson, and Cody Cropper. Typically the USYNT tag is a bright one that goes without questioning. If a player can impress in one good game with the U17s or U20s, then they rate very high in people's book and receive many second chances later in their career. Even if they disappear for a bit, well they were still on the U20 team so they must have something left in the tank. On top of that, a lot of hope goes into extreme amounts of athleticism. If they have an explosive dive, then the rest should just fall in line, right?
The problem with the three goalkeepers is that they're still young. Their approaches to the game are all still developing. You'll hear a lot of talk about consistency being key for goalkeepers but that can mean a lot of different things. Truthfully, it's vague talk because it's tough pinning down what the issue is with the player. All three are incredibly different goalkeepers that are all battling different things that are inhibiting consistency. Cropper has had hand issues for a while. Where to keep them in certain situations, holding a shot, general shape, etc. Hamid's body shape is out of this world. Some times it's great and other times it hurts him. He's erratic on 1v1s and awkward situations with a ball bouncing in the box. You'll see a starfish-looking dive at the ball (although this year I've seen it less, to be honest). Johnson, like the other two, will have great stretches of games and saves but unlike the other two, he struggles not with technique but awareness. I've seen him be surprised by a shot far too often and watch the ball trickle into the net. The Open Cup semi is the most recent example. However the Fire are really bad this year so I won't dog him too harshly.
Up to now, their records don't warrant call ups at this moment. Their club careers aren't any more notable than others'. Cropper isn't exactly in line to get any starts with Southampton's first team as he's sitting fourth string and Hamid and Johnson, while starting in MLS, are looking for that consistency that pundits default to. Rest assured, all three will all have illustrious careers, I have no doubt, but they're still very young. (Reiterating: they are all good goalkeepers.) The faith in the USYNT tag is a bit much and we shouldn't be looking to develop goalkeepers on the international stage, that's the job of clubs. Once they're ready, then let's get them on the field. I understand wanting to take a closer look, and that's fine to call them into a camp to train with them, but there are several other older, less shaky goalkeepers waiting in the pool.
(All that to say, here's a good article by Pablo Maurer on Bill Hamid and USMNT goalkeeper coach Chris Woods attesting to his potential.)
2. What happens when Howard returns? Howard knows he's taking a gamble with the depth chart. I can't imagine him doing anything but competing for the starting position when he returns but this looks like a changing of the guard situation. I can see Howard making the 2018 World Cup roster, but there's a lot of uncertainty in all of this. Perhaps September rolls around and Howard decides to retire from international play completely. Maybe he gets a little restless and comes back early. We don't know. Either way come September 2015, Klinsmann will go with the hot hand, and that takes into account club play.
Until then the US defense will have to pay attention to who is in goal. Guzan and Howard are not the same. Howard likes to insert himself into the game much more. He plays a significantly higher line than Guzan, who feels comfortable sitting back. Which one works better in our system? We're about to find out.
But since we're here let's take a look at Howard's first cap with the Men's National Team:
Luzenac Still Seeking Promotion - Oft forgotten French-American goalkeeper Quentin Westberg is in the middle of a battle for promotion, months after they thought they had earned it. Westberg's club, Luzenac AP (pronounced loos, not luhz) has been halted entrance to Ligue 2 because of financial issues. To read more into it I'll direct you to the Big Soccer forum, which has done a decent job of keeping up with Westberg and Luzenac. I know, I know, it's Big Soccer, but this thread does a better job of explaining the situation than I could. I'm just a goalieman, not a French sociologist.
I'll start you on page four so you can notice the time stamps. (Westberg signed with Luzenac in the summer of 2012 and being in the third division in France, we didn't hear too much about him here in America.) The next page takes a pretty big tangent (MLS vs. foreign leagues, bleh) but eventually it starts with the drama that's been ongoing since April of this year. If you don't feel like reading the whole thing, basically Luzenac is stuck in limbo and are waiting on a final ruling. Ligue 2 has already started their season without Luzenac so it's looking dim but that's not to say they're short of support to still join.
I know those signs are in French, but I think the point is clear, especially the last tweet. (Sorry to any children reading this.)
Jon Kempin and Sporting Kansas City's future - Sporting Kansas City had a string of injuries that led to them turning to twenty-one year old Jon Kempin, who was playing with third division Oklahoma City Energy FC just earlier this year. His entrance to MLS has not gone unnoticed. Kempin saved a penalty in his first game when he was subbed in for injured Andy Gruenebaum and earned MLS Save of the Week honors for the heroics. A week later he won the award again with his 1v1 stop against Toronto FC. Watch Kempin retreat to his line as the long breakaway starts. He bides his time and makes quick, short adjustments, slowly attacking the ball. It's a great example of being patient and letting your positioning make the save instead of trying to recklessly solve it. Put the pressure on the shooter and cover what you can.
As if all that wasn't good enough, he has a great game against Real Esteli FC in the CONCACAF Champions League. It was a big nine days for Kempin.
With the Olympics coming up in 2016, I fully expect Kempin to make the roster. I don't think he'll start as USYNTs rarely bump their starting keeper down. But Sporting has a situation on their hands for 2015 with having three goalkeepers that are good enough to start in MLS. I could see them trying to off-load either Kronberg or Gruenebaum, push Kempin to backup, and let Kempin wait another year behind a veteran before elevating him to full-time. But keep an eye on Kempin. His demeanor and approach to the game is exactly what you're looking for in a starter in a professional league.
Top 10 NCAA Goalkeepers - I know there is a real uninterest from the public about the college game, quoting stifling player growth, but really how many 18-23 year old goalkeepers would you want starting in MLS? Maybe field players, sure, but goalies are different. I'll pull a quote from my interview with returning champion, Patrick Wall, about his perception of jumping from NCAA to MLS and why he's staying another year at Notre Dame.
So personally, I'm excited about this year. There are a lot of great goalkeepers in the college game, more so than I have listed, and this is their development stage.
Yeah I know!! Thank you!
Here are my top ten college goalkeepers, all of which I expect to make noise at the next level.
1. Adam Grinwis (Michigan) - 65.8 (22.4)
2. Patrick Wall (Notre Dame) - 65.2 (23)
3. Spencer Richey (Washington) - 64.7 (22.3)
4. Alex Bono (Syracuse) - 64.6 (23.4)
5. Tomas Gomez (Georgetown) - 64 (21.3)
6. Tyler Miller (Northwestern) - 63 (21.5)
7. Charlie Lyon (Marquette) - 62.6 (22.4)
8. Paul Blanchette (Loyola Marymount) - 62.1 (20.4)
9. Matt Bersano (Oregon St) - 62 (22)
10. Chris Glodack (Clemson) - 61.9 (21.3)
U18 go undefeated in Czech Republic - A big ol' shout out to the U18s for topping Hungary, Czech Republic, and Ukraine in the final. Familiar name Jonathan Klinsmann won best goalkeeper at the tournament and JT Marcinkowski picked up one game, against Czech.