Recently I received an email from a parent whose son is bound for a Division I program. They asked a few questions that will hopefully be beneficial for more than just one parent, as I've seen similar questions asked more than once. I've reformatted the answers and changed the goalkeeper's name to keep anonymity.
What’s the average number of years that a college goalkeeper plays before being drafted?
Goalkeepers seem to be an exception when it comes to getting into MLS. A number of field players will leave college early (as they should) but college develops goalkeepers more consistently. So staying all four years isn't a knock on them. The only way a goalkeeper can enter MLS before graduating is through a homegrown contract or a Generation Adidas contract, which the latter is offered to underclassmen specifically. So if I had to ballpark the answer to your question, I would say 3.5+. For every one JT Marcinkowski and Evan Louro, there are another ten goalkeepers who stayed all four years.
Does D1, D2, D3, or NAIA make a difference?
Coming from a D1 program most certainly makes a difference, although it's not impossible to overcome the stigma of not being D1. Tim Melia was a D2 goalkeeper and now with USL opening up, there are a number of non-D1 goalkeepers in the system. But for those non-D1 goalkeepers, they either have to be very fortunate (USL teams will occasionally sign local kids, Reno FC and Las Vegas for example) or have an extensive list of connections. D1 goalkeepers can ride off their accomplishments more securely than non-D1 goalkeepers can. It's an uphill climb that favors D1 goalkeepers, but not inherently impossible for the rest.
Does conference make a difference (ACC, Big 10, Big East, etc.)?
I would sincerely doubt conferences have any real sway when it comes to draft time. A number of goalkeepers have come from smaller conferences over the past years. If anything, I might think playing in a competitive conference could hurt a goalkeeper in terms of publicity. Teams seem to gravitate towards "first team all-conference" goalkeepers over second teamers, even if the latter was only named behind a stud USYNT goalkeeper.
In terms of development, you could argue top conferences develop better goalkeepers but I personally haven't noticed that. Top schools recruit better goalkeepers, but I wouldn't say playing in the Pac-12 is necessarily going to make a better goalkeeper than C-USA. There are a lot of other factors that go into it.
Once drafted, how long do they last?
There are one or two career goalkeepers in every draft but most goalkeepers have trouble catching on in MLS. If you go back over the last five drafts, I would expect maybe at least a quarter of them to already be out of the league, with most of them with other teams. Teams are either drafting potential starters or guys to just fill the roster. So unless they're really banking on the goalkeeper to blossom down the line, they can easily ship them out. This is an exhausting experience for players so a number of them will retire earlier than they could have, although understandably so.
Ryan Bacic and the Washington Post recently published an article on top newcomers walking away from the game much earlier than expected.
Does national team appearances (youth or adult) factor in?
USYNT call-ups absolutely make a difference. If a player is called into a camp or two, they will wear their "USYNT badge" for the rest of their career, similar to how we call people "doctors" after finishing their dissertation. It truly is uncanny of how USYNT alumni are viewed, as if they just need to tap into this unlimited potential they have stored somewhere. This is twice as important for players who were invited into at least one USMNT cap.
I hope that helps, let me add one more thing to help explain the process a little better.
Publicity is more important than talent in regards to getting your foot in the door of a professional team. The USYNT badge is one example of this. MLS academy status and coaching connections are some others. Teams are more likely to bring in a familiar goalkeeper than take a gamble on an unknown. To some extent, I understand the thought process behind this, but it's too extreme for me. Too many goalkeepers are starting their careers with teams in USL or Europe instead of MLS because teams aren't familiar enough with a senior that was off the radar.
So remember this as y'all move forward. Make as many connections as y'all can. Play in a summer league with a good team that will take care of Reece, attend goalkeeper training sessions with different high profile goalkeeper coaches, make sure MLS goalkeeper coaches see his highlight tape, etc. If no one knows of Reece when he graduates, regardless of how good he is, he will have a very hard time making the jump.