cover photo from EPA/Guillaume Horcajuelo
After the 1-1 tie to New Zealand earlier this week, fans were less than thrilled with the performances from American goalkeepers. In the first minute of the match, William Yarbrough almost gifts New Zealand a goal by spilling the type of shot goalkeepers routinely see in warmups. Yarbrough was saved by his backline and snuck out of the half without a goal but struggled to convince fans he was worth the hype or battle to win him over from Mexico. For those who have followed WPY in his club career, you can't help but feel like it's constantly a one step forward, one step back type of situation. He'll have a ten save shutout one night, then turn around and let in a howler the next game. Unfortunately it looks like Yarbrough is another case of an athletic goalkeeper struggling to put consistent play together.
The second half saw Klinsmann sub in San Jose's David Bingham, only to concede one of the softer goals in recent USMNT play.
There are things stacked against Bingham in this play: Altidore doesn't clear the cross in, Bingham doesn't get a clear view of the windup or shot by Patterson, and it looks like the ball deflects off a US player before coming on frame. This is certainly not an ideal situation for David Bingham's second cap. However, it's a slow roller that trickles through Bingham's legs for a goal. When the shot is taken, Bingham gets into an extremely wide stance, which is odd given the close proximity of the shot. It's not a huge surprise the ball goes through the largest gap in Bingham's form. Goalkeepers let in soft goals every now and then but it's not the type of play we expect to see from a USMNT starter.
The 1-1 tie is on the heels of a 2-0 win in Cuba, where 21 year old Ethan Horvath earned his first appearance for the national team. Horvath earned the shutout despite looking a little unsettled in the match, although the 5000 miles of flights have may played a factor. There is much speculation and hope resting on Horvath, as well as a few other youngsters, but none have gotten to the point where fans are confident with them as the starting goalkeeper for 2018.
It's been a while since the US hasn't featured an elite goalkeeper in a World Cup. You would probably have to go back to 1994 or 1990, when a respective 25 and 21-year-old Tony Meola started for the US. In 1990, the US finished 23rd out of 24 teams but managed to reach the knockout stage in 1994, with a goalkeeper who was playing more indoor than outdoor at the time. Even in 2014's tournament, Algeria reached the knockout stage with Philadelphia Union washout Rais M'Bolhi before losing to Germany (an above average national team) 2-1 in extra time.
Teams don't need to have an elite goalkeeper to have a good World Cup performance. It'll help, but there are also ten other positions to fill. Concerns about the US not having an stalwart goalkeeper for 2018 are drastically overblown. Yes, the US would most certainly benefit from having such a goalkeeper but teams can advance without them. The US doesn't need an elite goalkeeper; they need a quality one that won't let in soft goals. As for who that goalkeeper will be, there are several names in the mix and Klinsmann recently gave some insight on the depth chart, when asked about Bill Hamid's place in the team.
“And there right now in that ranking, [Bill Hamid is] probably around No. 6, 7, because you have Tim Howard, you have Brad Guzan, you have Ethan Horvath, you have William Yarbrough, you have David Bingham, you have Nick Rimando, you have Billy, you have Sean Johnson. We discuss them up and down.”
Despite naming multiple goalkeepers, the answer should make fans more worried than less. Admittedly, he's probably not listing them exactly in order as it's likely just off the top of his head, but the fact that Hamid is competing for a roster spot with Sean Johnson - a goalkeeper who can't hold down his own roster spot for the worst team in MLS - shows just how out of touch Klinsmann is with the realities of the goalkeeper pool. Johnson has not been a viable option for the US for some time and Klinsmann still considers him in the running based on outdated expectations. Hamid has had a great last two years in MLS, to the point where you could easily argue he's outplaying his peers in the league. After Yarbrough's and Bingham's performance on Tuesday, it doesn't seem like Klinsmann has a strong grasp on the actual pecking order.
It's good to hear that Klinsmann said he leans on Russell Payne, the current US goalkeeper coach, when it comes to opinions on goalkeepers. Payne has worked with a number of top collegiate goalkeepers at Army and Maryland. With Army, Payne coached 6'4" 2015 graduate Winston Boldt, who earned a variety of awards during his time at West Point, as well as Zac MacMath and Chris Seitz at Maryland, both of which had successful college careers. Payne replaces Chris Woods, currently at West Ham, and should help get the right goalkeepers in and hopefully keep the wrong ones out.
Wading through all of this, the US actually has a number of options for 2018. Of course there are the previously eight mentioned goalkeepers by Klinsmann but there are still more names out there, domestically and abroad. If a goalkeeper starts stringing together performances, they could end up on Klinsmann's radar, especially if the current crop continue to struggle. Even the Cosmos' Jimmy Maurer or Alex Horwath in Norway could theoretically make a case for themselves given the current situation. With all the goalkeepers the US currently has, it's a safe bet that at least one of them will be playing well in 2018. On top of that, there's a good chance the number one will be a wash between the other candidates. Fans may have a preference between one or another, but ultimately they will all be around the same caliber. Unfortunately, this doesn't alleviate the main problem with the position.
Klinsmann hasn't been clear on what exactly he's looking for in a goalkeeper. It doesn't help that one hasn't separated himself from the pack but with so many goalkeepers rotating in and out, including ones that aren't qualified to be on the field, we don't know what to expect from the position. Playing consistent is the key factor but does Klinsmann prefer one type or aspect over another? It's hard to say. With Klinsmann showing a gross misunderstanding of the goalkeeper pool, it's doubtful he can accurately describe the priorities of the position specific to the US's needs. Fans have concerns of the quality at goalkeeper but 2018 might see bigger problems off the field than on it.