It’s been a long time coming but we’ve finally dwindled down to the final eight teams in the MLS playoffs. While I’m disappointed we won’t see a Guzan v Melia final, as both Atlanta United and Sporting Kansas City have already been eliminated, we’ve already witnessed some great goalkeeping in the first round. Luis Robles, Tyler Deric and newly acquired Stefan Marinovic all posted shutouts, with Deric and Marinovic playing in their first career MLS playoff games. And despite ending up on the wrong side of the scoreboard, Andrew Dykstra and Brad Guzan played 240 minutes with only one goal conceded between the two (a GAA line of 0.375).
But the one goalkeeping performance that can’t be left out is Zack Steffen’s shutout and two penalty save night.
As if the eight saves in the 120 minutes wasn’t enough, Steffen put the icing on the cake when he saved two penalties and would have made it a third had it been on frame. Steffen was already receiving some USMNT shouts but after Wednesday night’s performance, he seems to be the frontrunner for the majority of fans.
Moving into the conference semifinals, there are eight goalkeepers all eyeing the prize of lifting the MLS Cup. While records reset, certain teams are certainly more favored than others. Mytopsportsbooks.com has Toronto FC and New York City FC as the frontrunners while Houston and New York are outside looking in. But for a team to reach the final, their goalkeeping will either make or break them down the final stretch, as we witnessed last year. Here are the top eight remaining goalkeepers in the playoffs and what to expect from each every one of them.
1. Stefan Frei - Seattle Sounders
What to expect: Many remember his save in the final last year but most forget that the save came largely after doing nothing all game. The save was a great testament to how focus and dedication can reward a goalkeeper. Frei comes in prepared, probably more than ever, and with a 7-3-3 playoff record under his belt. It’s exactly the type of goalkeeper you want in net this time of year. Don’t expect his saves to be mechanically clean, as Frei is known to be a little unorthodox, but he’s willing to put his body on the line any way possible to help his team. If Seattle aren’t repeat champions, it probably won’t be because of Frei’s mistakes.
2. Luis Robles - New York Red Bulls
What to expect: Entering the conference semifinals, Robles and Frei combined for over 84% of career playoff games between the eight starting goalkeepers, although Robles is 5-7-3 (W-L-T) in postseason play. The Red Bulls are currently on an odd note, with only two wins in their last 11 regular season games but also a 4-0 stomping over the Fire in quarterfinals. For a team who has talent but not the consistency, added pressure is typically put on the goalkeeper for setting the right tone. Robles showed up Wednesday night and it’s fair to expect more clutch saves from Robles against Toronto.
3. Zack Steffen - Columbus Crew
What to expect: Steffen possesses a certain amount of poise that’s incredibly unique to not only his age bracket, but also MLS goalkeepers. He rarely gets riled up on a big save. Instead he keeps his cool, acting like he’s done it a million times already. It’s a fascinating display and the Crew really seem to feed off of it. He’s already made noise with his penalty heroics but his 1v1 and aerial game aren't his strong suits. His athleticism typically overtakes any shortcomings in his game and it's worked well for him in most cases. If a team can catch Steffen in an unconfident position, they won’t have to face him in a penalty shootout, but it won't be an easy task.
4. Tyler Deric - Houston Dynamo
What to expect: Out of all of my favorite lateral movements, Deric has my favorite. It’s akin to Oliver Kahn’s two footed hop, instead of the more popular step and drive method. Both Deric and Kahn's dive pushes off with their back leg but without taking power away from the lead step. It’s a tough mechanic but it’s why Deric has a Michael Jordan gravity defying leap. (Yes, I just compared Deric to both Oliver Kahn and Michael Jordan in the same paragraph.) However Deric, like many others, doesn’t have the playoff experience to fall back on and has yet to build a resume of clutch saves. It’s a great platform for Deric to show the league that he’s been underreported, but it’s also new territory for him as well.
5. Alex Bono - Toronto FC
What to expect: After some less than outstanding seasons in the USL, the 23 year old Syracuse alum has put the pieces together in his first year as a starter with Toronto. Bono’s defense have done a wonderful job of letting Bono focus on his game without giving him added headaches. Bono still has room to grow when it comes to close range reactions and priority managing in awkward situations, as displayed in his 5-3 loss to Montreal back in September. If Toronto can continue to play their defense and Bono keeps his consistency he’s gained throughout the year, the Toronto goalkeeper’s first playoff run can be a strong highlight in his career
6. Stefan Marinovic - Vancouver Whitecaps
What to expect: The league isn't too familiar with the New Zealander, outside that he’s taken over the starting spot from David Ousted. Marinovic isn’t as near as flashy as Ousted but it works well for him. He’s not going to be coughing up any major mistakes as he’s already been capped by New Zealand 22 times. While I don’t think Marinovic is going to make any major mistakes, I’m curious how his communication is going to hold up in pressure situations with the language barrier, especially for a defense that’s known for leaking shots.
7. Sean Johnson - New York City FC
What to expect: It’s bizarre to think that Johnson has only one playoff game in his seven years with Chicago until you remember he was playing for the Fire. Johnson has seen a resurgence in his career since coming to New York but, similar to Bono and Deric, he doesn’t possess a history of playoff experience and years of consistency under his belt. Johnson relies on his quick reactions and long frame to produce saves and it's worked well this year. While he definitely has sped up his footwork, Johnson’s limited lateral footwork can still get him into hot water. If there’s a low shot to his side that requires him to move his feet or make quick decisions in the box, he may have a hard time keeping the ball out of the net.
8. Jeff Attinella - Portland Timbers
What to expect: Yet another goalkeeper without any playoff experience. 29 year old Jeff Attinella has only 43 MLS games to his name, less than Johnson has over the last two years. Attinella is a really interesting case because he shares similarities to a young goalkeeper who still needs to figure out awkward, sprawling situations. However Attinella carries a chip on his shoulder as a goalkeeper in his position must have. After being told you’re just the backup for a number of years, a goalkeeper either fights through it or fades out. Attinella’s frame of mind is sharp and if the Timbers defense lets Attinella do his job without any Omar Gonzalez-esque shots on goal, then the veteran keeper will have a fine playoff run.