The 2018 MLS SuperDraft is less than three weeks away and this year's senior class has a number of goalkeepers who look more than ready for the next level. It's the strongest goalkeeping class since 2007, which featured Luis Robles, Tally Hall, Chris Seitz, Chris Konopka, and Kyle Reynish.
Dating back to the 2013 SuperDraft, 28 goalkeepers have been selected over a combined 330 picks. (Not counting Evan Louro's homegrown signing with the Red Bulls.) Although there are exceptions, teams typically don't draft goalkeepers until the top field players have been selected. Four goalkeepers over the past four years went in the first round, while the other 24 went in the second, third, or fourth round. However the late start on goalkeepers makes them a higher commodity in later rounds, where it's not rare to see a wave of goalkeeper picks once one is selected.
Knowing that anything can happen on draft day, there are some safer bets than others. Chicago, FC Dallas, Montreal, NYC and Sporting Kansas City are all filled at the goalkeeping position while Houston, Orlando, and Seattle are all in the greatest need. No collegiate goalkeeper will be vying for starting minutes right away. Instead MLS teams will be looking more long term, filling their USL rosters or a number three slot. There are 92 picks this year, which puts MLS teams on "pace" to select 7.8 goalkeepers over the four rounds. Let's find eight goalkeepers homes in MLS.
1. Jeff Caldwell - Houston Dynamo, 1st Round
There's a decent chance Caldwell falls to the Dynamo late in the first round. MLS teams are historically skittish in selecting a goalkeeper early into the draft unless they're confident in handing out a guaranteed MLS contract, which Caldwell will most definitely want. There are other teams in need of goalkeepers ahead of Houston but the field player-heavy draft could see those teams waiting until the second round to pickup a goalkeeper. Houston only have one goalkeeper signed between their MLS and USL squads and Caldwell is someone who could be playing in MLS in 2-3 years. There's a big enough need that the Dynamo could theoretically end up with two goalkeepers this draft but at the very least Houston should snag one of the top goalkeepers.
2. Eric Dick - Seattle Sounders, 1st Round
There's always the chance Seattle signs Paul Christensen as a homegrown option but something tells me if it hasn't happened by now, it's not going to happen. Seattle is known for having a good core of goalkeepers with their USL side and Eric Dick will certainly bolster the currently empty roster. At the end of the first round, the Sounders will have to wonder if there are really that many better options elsewhere and what goalkeepers will be left by the end of the second round.
3. Ben Lundgaard - Colorado Rapids, 2nd Round
Colorado are currently sitting on five draft picks so it's likely they'll use one on a goalkeeper at some point. Lundgaard won ACC Goalkeeper of the Year over Caldwell and has the type of save in his repertoire to keep his team in games they probably shouldn't be in. The only problem is that the Rapids' haven't had much success in drafting goalkeepers in the past, mostly due to their own fault. The last goalkeeper they drafted, Ohio State alum Chris Froschauer, they prompted dropped the following summer after they brought Tim Howard in. The Rapids should leave the draft with a promising prospect but after six failed attempts at drafting an eventual starting goalkeeper, Rapids fans may not want to be holding their breath on this one.
4. Michael Nelson - DC United, 2nd Round
There's going to be a point in the draft when goalkeepers are flying off the board and teams are going to look at Nelson as a safe pick, as they should. He has the frame and composure to succeed at the next level, as shown with a successful tournament run with SMU. DC have had as many as four goalkeepers on an MLS contract in the past and if they truly are considering a USL side for 2019, Nelson is a good place to start.
5. Paul Christensen - Atlanta United, 2nd Round
If Atlanta are still aiming for starting a USL affiliate in 2018, they'll need at least two more goalkeepers. We haven't heard any more news about the expansion since November, so I wouldn't be completely surprised if the plan was put on pause for another year but pessimism aside, Christensen would be a fine fit in Atlanta. He's a tad undersized for a traditional MLS goalkeeper but he makes up for it in quickness and reactions. The USYNT product has the option of signing with Seattle as a homegrown but with so much time passing, it's likely that Seattle hasn't offered it or Christensen wants to try his luck elsewhere. I would expect Christensen to want an MLS contract, similar to Jack McGuire last year, and Atlanta seems like the type of team that would be willing to oblige.
6. Drew Shepherd - Philadelphia Union, 3rd Round
MLS drafts have been kind to goalkeepers from small schools and Shepherd was a part of possibly the most successful class in Western Michigan University's history. Philadelphia already have a young goalkeeping core with three goalkeepers under 28 but none rostered with Bethlehem Steel. The Union have three draft picks in the last two rounds and goalkeepers are traditionally safer picks than field players. Shepherd doesn't have a ton of press going into the draft so to see him go undrafted wouldn't be a shock, although he's shown the ability and determination to get to the next level one way or another.
7. Scott Levene - New York Red Bulls, 4th Round
Similar to Philadelphia, the Red Bulls need USL goalkeepers. However the Red Bulls are in an interesting position with no third round selections and with Robles on the backend of his career, they could afford to be a little more aggressive with their second round pick. Levene has 70 collegiate games to his name - much more compared to his peers - from the same university that produced Andre Blake. So for whichever team Levene ends up at, they'll be receiving a much-tested goalkeeper.
8. Nico Corti - Los Angeles FC, 4th Round
In contrast to Levene, Corti doesn't have a ton of game experience under his belt, less than 2200 minutes played in his collegiate career. Fortunately for Corti, he earned a national championship for his résumé and never looked uncomfortable when in goal. While I'm aware Orlando doesn't have a 4th round pick, it's not that tricky to obtain a late round draft pick. OCSC need another three goalkeepers to fill out their MLS/USL rosters and starting in the draft is as good of time as any. It's a low-risk/high-reward situation for OCSC to make a play for the senior Cardinal.
Update: Orlando City has quietly announced that their USL squad will not compete in 2018 so Corti slides to LAFC. Stanford is a cool five hours north of LA and you'd hope the new MLS team would be aware of a national champion in their backyard. LA still needs a starter but they also don't have a third string goalkeeper yet. Corti would be a fine addition for them.