Ranking the Eight Goalkeepers Left in the MLS Playoffs

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

 (Lindsey Wasson/The Seattle Times)

(Lindsey Wasson/The Seattle Times)

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

 (Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

(Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

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

 (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

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

 (Trask Smith)

(Trask Smith)

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

 ( Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports )

( Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports )

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

stefan_marinovic_el_muro_de_nueva_zelanda_1280x720_956013635931.jpg

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

 (AP)

(AP)

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

 (USA Today Sports Images)

(USA Today Sports Images)

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.

The 50 Greatest MLS Goalkeepers of All-Time

MLS enters its 22nd season next month and while there hasn't been an overwhelmingly amount of goalkeepers in the league's history - only 170 so far - we've still seen a number of great goalkeepers come through the league. But who are the best of the best?

There are a number of ways to determine the league's top goalkeepers. Depending on how much you want to weigh talent, achievements, and time in the league, you could come up with a number of different orders. This list is centered less on statistics and more on when the goalkeeper played in the league. If the goalkeeper played a number of games well past his prime, or too far in front of it, then his time in his league isn't as valuable as certain goalkeepers with less appearances. Simply by appearing in the league isn't a good barometer of the best, as a look at the top twenty goalkeepers with the most games played in MLS history shows us.

Rimando - Jeff Swinger/USA TODAY Sports
Reis - Jason Gulledge
Howard - Getty Images

1. Kevin Hartman (416 Games, 1997-2012)
2. Nick Rimando (424 Games, 2000-present)
3. Jon Busch (309 Games, 2002-2015)
4. Pat Onstad (223 Games, 2003-2011)
5. Matt Reis (293 Games, 1998-2013)
6. Joe Cannon (342 Games, 1999-2013)
7. Zach Thornton (282 Games, 1996-2011)
8. Tony Meola (250 Games, 1996-2006)
9. Scott Garlick (237 Games, 1997-2006)
10. Tim Howard (102 Games, 1998-2003, 2016-present)

Bill says: There could be a case for twenty or more goalkeepers to be included here, depending on what criteria you use. Most fans are familiar with the majority here and will compliment them for having such long careers. While some will talk about certain goalkeepers being ageless, Pat Onstead playing until 43 without fading into a shadow of himself is the gold standard. 1997 MLS Cup winner Scott Garlick is often overlooked as well, who spent over a decade in the league. But however you want to rank them, at the end of the day it's Hartman and Rimando battling out the top spot.

11. Luis Robles (140 Games, 2012-present)
12. Troy Perkins (217 Games, 2005-2007, 2010-2015)
13. Will Hesmer (133 Games, 2006-2011)
14. David Ousted (114 Games, 2013-present)
15. Marcus Hahnemann (70 Games, 1997-1999, 2013)
16. Bo Oshoniyi (109 Games, 1996, 2000-2006)
17. Ian Feuer (45 Games, 1998-1999)
18. Matt Pickens (156 Games, 2005-2007, 2009-2013)
19. Dan Kennedy (163 Games, 2008-present)
20. Kasey Keller (93 Games, 2009-2011)

Bill says: Ian Feuer is a great example of a truly outstanding goalkeeper who gets a boost here despite the lack of games played. Perkins quietly earned over 200 appearances in the league, only one of ten goalkeepers to do so, which I think most recent fans gloss over for not seeing him in his prime. Robles, Ousted, and Kennedy are probably more familiar to fans than Bo Oshoinyi or even Will Hesmer, whose career was cut short due to injuries but the 2008 MLS Cup winner had a successful career nonetheless.

21. Mike Ammann (125 Games, 1996-2001)
22. Jorge Campos (52 Games, 1996-1998)
23. Brad Friedel (38 Games, 1996-1997)
24. Andy Gruenebaum (91 Games, 2006-2014)
25. Stefan Frei (180 Games, 2009-present)
26. Donovan Ricketts (188 Games, 2009-2015)
27. Bill Hamid (160 Games, 2010-present)
28. Walter Zenga (47 Games, 1997-1998)
29. Mark Dodd (92 Games, 1996-1999)
30. Mark Dougherty (123 Games, 1996-2001)

Bill says: Typically MLS 1.0 is frowned upon for the quality of play but the league started off with a strong goalkeeper presence from day one. Jorge Campos didn't stay in the league long but alongside Ammann, Dodd, Dougherty, Friedel, and Zenga, the first goalkeepers set a strong standard for the league. Bill Hamid will likely be challenging for the top ten in a few years if he continues to push off a move overseas.

31. Tally Hall (153 Games, 2010-2015)
32. Steve Clark (100 Games, 2014-2016)
33. Bouna Coundoul (99 Games, 2006-2011)
34. Juergen Sommer (54 Games, 1998-2002)
35. Brad Guzan (79 Games, 2005-2008)
36. Chris Woods (23 Games, 1996-1996)
37. Evan Bush (79 Games, 2012-present)
38. Jon Conway (88 Games, 2000-2011)
39. Adin Brown (85 Games, 2000-2005)
40. Jonny Walker (58 Games, 2003-2006)

Bill says: USMNT goalkeeping hipsters will recognize Sommer and Woods. Sommer was the first American goalkeeper overseas in England while Woods was England's first goalkeeper in MLS, who would later be the USMNT goalkeeper coach. Adin Brown and Jonny Walker are mostly remembered for what could have been. Both were once promising young goalkeepers who had their careers derailed due to injuries.

41. Tom Presthus (106 Games, 1997-2003)
42. Greg Sutton (53 Games, 1999-2000, 2007-2012)
43. Raúl Fernández (47 Games, 2013-2014)
44. Tyler Deric (55 Games, 2009-present)
45. Tim Melia (56 Games, 2012-present)
46. Jeff Cassar (79 Games, 1996-2006)
47. David Bingham (73 Games, 2011-present)
48. Jaime Penedo (54 Games, 2013-2015)
49. David Kramer (106 Games, 1996-2002)
50. Mark Simpson (53 Games, 1996-2001)

Bill says: A mix of hidden gems and recent stars. Mark Simpson started in the first MLS final. Tom Presthus earned one cap with the USMNT, and probably would be starting today if he had come along twenty years later. Veterans Jeff Cassar and David Kramer were constantly battling off top goalkeepers within the league but similar to Presthus, would likely be more successful in a league with twice as many teams.

How Important Is the MLS Superdraft for Goalkeepers?

cover photo by Andy Mead

The 2017 MLS Draft wrapped up last week and teams are racing to fill out their varsity roster, as well as sorting out who will spend the year with their USL affiliate. Depending on how much they want to stock up, each team is needing anywhere from three to six goalkeepers. The past month has seen scouting reports, projections, and several write-ups for recent senior graduates and possible roster signees, but for all the fanfare surrounding the rookies, it's no secret it wears off quickly.

Already we've seen two goalkeepers from the 2016 class - Ryan Herman and Chris Froschauer - be dropped by the team that drafted them without much of a word about it. I suppose "sophomore season" narratives aren't as engaging to readers but perhaps there are better options for MLS teams finding a goalkeeper.

 

MLS's Search for Starting Goalkeepers

Over the last twenty years multiple teams have brought in an older goalkeeper from Europe or South America. Goalkeepers are known for their longevity so signing a goalkeeper late into his career can still give the team four to five years to work with. There's no denying how excited fans get when they hear marquee names attached to the league, like the ongoing rumor of Iker Casillas coming over.

The disappointing reality is that MLS teams simply can't (or shouldn't) chase elite goalkeepers at this time. If salary cap or designated player rules get tweaked in the future, MLS teams might be able to spend more freely on the last line of defense. Until then, it doesn't make sense for MLS to spend millions on a position that could conceivably make zero meaningful contributions in a game. There's a reason why there has only ever been one designated player that was a goalkeeper, and it just happens to be the most iconic American goalkeeper of all-time.

Alternatively, every team would love to sign a homegrown goalkeeper and develop him to the point where he eventually takes over as their starter. There are several incentives for signing a young prospect. Fans are always buzzing over an academy player joining the first team, there is no salary cap hit if a player is under a homegrown contract, and signing a player that young gives the team more control over the player's development. Or so we would think. The truth is homegrown goalkeepers have been scarce since their beginnings, with the league only signing 11 since 2008.

As of right now, there are no signs that teams will start signing more goalkeepers as HGPs. Currently they're more than content to let them develop in the college game. Some MLS teams will even push for young players to sign with their USL affiliate, in order to not have to pay more with an MLS contract, even if it doesn't count against the salary cap.

Some teams have looked abroad to sign a young goalkeeper, also at a low price. New York City signed Norwegian YNT goalkeeper Eirik Johansen back in 2015 as a 22 year old and LA Galaxy also signed Clément Diop, a 23 year old French goalkeeper last year. However these are less seen than homegrowns, due to the numerous difficulties in bringing in a foreigner at such a young age.

While some are quick to dismiss the college draft, at the end of the day it's the best cost-effective route for getting goalkeepers into the league. Foreigners (that are worth bringing in) are going to cost more than an American goalkeeper. Vancouver's Danish goalkeeper David Ousted makes $360,000 while Tim Melia is only at $150,000, yet no one would say Ousted is twice the goalkeeper as Melia. Even if your starter is not going to be an American, you will need to save money on the backup, which likely will be a domestic goalkeeper from the college game. 

It should be noted that there are some examples of college grads making it into MLS that aren't American - most notably Andre Blake (UConn, Jamaica) and Bouna Coundoul (Albany, Senegal) - but most will be domestic players. In fact if a college grad isn't American, it's all the more unlikely for a team to use an international slot on a player that's not going to see the field for some time. 

 

Getting the Most Out of the College Game

For the rest of the article, this document is referenced. I listed every SuperDraft pick, combine invite (dating back to 2003), Generation Adidas signing, and homegrown goalkeeper. Some fun stats are scattered throughout the doc. 

 Figure 1 - Includes drafted, homegrowns, and Generation Adidas goalkeepers. Essentially all goalkeepers that would be considered a prospect.

Figure 1 - Includes drafted, homegrowns, and Generation Adidas goalkeepers. Essentially all goalkeepers that would be considered a prospect.

 Figure 2 - The "1995 draft" is the inaugural draft, which was a little under half of college graduates but accurately occurred prior to the 1996 season The "1996 draft" is the college draft, also before the 1996 season.

Figure 2 - The "1995 draft" is the inaugural draft, which was a little under half of college graduates but accurately occurred prior to the 1996 season The "1996 draft" is the college draft, also before the 1996 season.

The first question we need to answer is about the draft's relevancy. Is the draft merely there to fill out the roster or can it produce starters in the league as well?

Splitting the league's all-time goalkeeper pool into two camps, we start to see how important American development has been for MLS goalkeepers. Only 14% of all MLS starts have been from a goalkeeper who wasn't draft-eligible. These are mostly foreigners who played in another country, although there are some Americans skipped the draft to go pro (Friedel and Keller, for example). The other 86% of starts have been from draft-eligible prospects (college grads, Generation Adidas, and homegrown players). Again, the cost-effectiveness of the college game has played a large part in the league's goalkeeper history. Interestingly enough, 25% of starts have come from undrafted - but could have been drafted - goalkeepers, meaning that undrafted goalkeepers have almost been twice as involved in the league as imported talent.

Knowing there is talent in every draft class, now we are left wondering just how productive the draft is for teams. It's always tricky to predict who will or won't be a potential starter but clearly some teams have done better than others. For example, New England being unable to convert nine prospects into anything worthwhile isn't good. Sporting Kansas City and Colorado have also struggled to find a good fit as well. (See figure 1)

One starting point is comparing MLS starts of young prospects versus undrafted goalkeepers. For this exercise, goalkeepers like Jorge Campos or Brad Friedel will not be included because they weren't draft eligible. (See figure 2)

Looking at the first few years, MLS was getting it right for the most part. The inaugural draft missed some notable keepers with Scott Garlick (237 appearances), Pat Onstad (223), Mike Ammann (125), and Marcus Hahnemann (70) but after that, only Joe Cannon (342) and Preston Burpo (57) made waves in the league.

The main reason is likely that MLS only had 10-12 teams for the first decade, so they only had to scout the best of the best. There wasn't a need to be thorough because there was only so much room for goalkeepers. The best goalkeepers stood out in college and that was all that mattered. Teams held only two goalkeepers (around 20-25 goalkeeping spots in the league), as opposed to now where teams will field two to three times as many, with USL affiliates bolstering the number. As MLS started to expand, more slots started to open up to the point where we now see ten goalkeepers being selected in the 2017 draft.

It's too early to say the fate of the last four classes, but we can start to see the how after 2003, overlooked goalkeepers started to trickle in. Perhaps the most bizarre year was 2008, when incoming players combined for zero appearances. Folklore legends Josh Lambo (U17, U20 starter), Dominic Cervi (USMNT call-up), and Brian Edwards (Wake Forest standout and NCAA Champion) were all outplayed for the likes of Tim Melia (Division II Lynn University, 56 appearances), Joe Nasco (Division III Birmingham-Southern, 4), and Lance Parker (Missouri State, 4).

Even through expansion and additional roster spot openings, the draft has showed that it can still produce the desired talent despite teams regularly missing it.

Click here for more stats on goalkeeper prospects.

 

Press Doesn't Equal Success

 Every combine goalkeeper since 2003. Gm/yr was maxed out at 10 years, as seen with Perkins and Kennedy.

Every combine goalkeeper since 2003. Gm/yr was maxed out at 10 years, as seen with Perkins and Kennedy.

It's an odd to see goalkeepers that are good enough for MLS go untouched. Surely teams would notice if someone could cover the admittedly large gap from college to the professional game. What's even more odd is comparing how heralded goalkeepers don't fare that much better than the table scraps.

Counting the appearances between combine invites (and even throwing in homegrowns, GAs, and first round picks) versus every other goalkeeper that could be drafted (again, leaving out Campos, Friedel, and others), it's only 53-47% in favor of goalkeepers who are receiving media attention. There are actually more combine washouts (supposedly the cream of the crop) than goalkeepers who are overlooked yet make it into the league (43-33).

In the first decade, MLS could simply rely on word of mouth for the best goalkeepers coming out of the college game. Now that more teams are vying for the best goalkeepers - and more are getting selected in the draft - teams can't expect the press or the combine to do their research for them.

The touted goalkeepers don't end up fairing that much better than the rest of the bunch. Dating back to 2003, the current combine invite has a median career game appearances of zero. Still, some teams are confident in just accessing the four to six goalkeepers invited to the combine.

 

So How Important Is the College Draft?

Incredibly, but that doesn't mean the press surrounding the draft is equally valuable. The college game isn't at the point where teams can just throw a dart at a wall and find a starting goalkeeper. 76% of combine invites get drafted yet only 29% of combine invites end up being a success within the league. Even worse, only 18% of prospects end up being a success for a given team, meaning teams are moving on too quickly moving on from their draft picks. 

 +/- =  tm.succ - (prospects - tm.succ) - (lg.succ - tm.succ) ... essentially counting all the times a team got it right, with a penalty for losing a good goalkeeper

+/- =  tm.succ - (prospects - tm.succ) - (lg.succ - tm.succ) ... essentially counting all the times a team got it right, with a penalty for losing a good goalkeeper

MLS's goalkeeping future is hard to predict. For teams trying to get the most out of their money, the emphasis should be on the academy to develop their goalkeepers. However, the majority of teams aren't as patient and resort to battling the rest of the league to find a promising goalkeeper in the draft. Perhaps we will see teams be more creative in how they bring in goalkeepers but that will likely be dependent on rule changes. Until then, it seems like the landscape isn't going to change and neither is the pipeline for American goalkeepers.

If teams aren't willing to craft their own goalkeeper, they have to do something to give themselves an advantage over their competitors. We know there is talent in the college game, it's just a matter of finding it early and not years after they graduate. As we enter 2017, teams are starting to separate themselves as to those who are content with listening to the noise, and those who know that finding a young goalkeeper starts before January.

Known For His High Flying Saves, Many Miss the Holes in Andre Blake's game

cover photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

This week Andre Blake was announced as the 2016 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year. While Philadelphia has long had a history of poor luck when it comes to goalkeepers, fans should be slow to think their historic goalkeeping woes are completely solved. The award rarely means the winner is the best goalkeeper in the league and Blake needs to improve in several areas moving forward in 2017. Despite this, MLS has largely been focused on how much of the goalmouth Blake can cover.

Admittedly those saves are great and something a number of goalkeepers can't do. However a one minute video does not represent any goalkeeper's season in a complete picture. MLS has done a poor job or presenting a rounded picture of Blake, or any goalkeeper in the league. Front page content is centered around thrilling saves, which makes sense as they're trying to create clickable links. However when it comes to mistakes in the back, the league struggles to find the appropriate accountability. Fans, reporters, and writers are too extreme when witnessing errors from a goalkeeper. They will either paint a goalkeeper's entire season with one mistake or just turn a blind eye. In this case, everyone has ignored Blake's problems in the back.

I know highlighting a goalkeeper's mistakes can be a very divisive issue. Let me say this wasn't an enjoyable experience on my end and it still doesn't tell someone all they need to know about Blake. Viewers should definitely watch any goalkeeper's best saves but also paired with his mistakes. Goalkeepers make mistakes all the time and fortunately a large percentage of them are meaningless. A shanked punt just happens to land in the right spot. A spill in the back harmlessly goes out of bounds for a corner kick that doesn't produce a shot. So while there are excuses to defend Blake's season, there are a few reasons why we need to entertain this angle.

1. Most American journalists don't know what a good goalkeeper looks like. Too many writers don't know how legitimate goals are scored unless it was a complete error on the goalkeeper's part. What does a bad goal in a 1v1 situation look like? What are the mechanics behind a goalkeeper correctly handling a cross? What type of communication should a goalkeeper use with the backline? An overwhelming majority of writers cannot answer those questions. Instead, they laud the athletic goalkeepers while ignoring the consistency others bring to the field. There's a reason the internet blew up over a very fun, exhausting drill with Norwich's goalkeepers yet goalkeeping analysis is just not that interesting. People want to praise goalkeepers who work hard, but not understand what makes one mechanically sound.

2. MLS's Goalkeeper of the Year is rewarded off the wrong criteria. A low goals against average doesn't correlate with a good goalkeeper. It just means the defense as a whole is solid. Finishing atop the conference, or even winning the MLS Cup, doesn't mean the goalkeeper is automatically good. (Portland's starting keeper lasted six months after winning the Cup.) The voters have the wrong set of priorities and unfortunately hold too low of a standard for "Goalkeeper of the Year". Perhaps a better question for voters when evaluating Blake: how many amazing saves would Blake have to make to not only outweigh six minutes of mistakes, but outweigh them to the point where he's the best in the league?

3. The video is not meant to belittle Andre Blake or the city of Philadelphia. Blake turns 26 this month and will likely have a long career ahead of him. He has a lot of advantages in his corner and, like every goalkeeper before him, will continue to grow in his ability. I watched him when he was at UConn and he's grown since then and will most certainly be better next year. But for anyone watching more than just a quick highlight video of Blake, they'd know there's no way getting around the fact that he should not have won GOTY and he shouldn't have been close either.

4. The miscue video is a great chance for anyone to learn more about the position. It may sound thin but anyone will learn more about goalkeeping when watching errors instead of successes. We can learn what needs to be done to fix an issue and why problems exist in the first place.

5. American soccer culture is too soft when criticizing players. While the video will step on a lot of toes, compare the US's approach to criticism to any other top country. Spain, Brazil, Germany are all more than thorough in naming someone the best or calling a player "elite". Again, Blake will be fine down the road as he continues to develop but there is a lot to learn from looking at his season in another light.

 

There's no need to go through each clip and say what Blake did wrong on this or that play. It's not an all-encompassing mistake video so while people may disagree on certain plays, it's clear he struggles in a number of categories. His footwork in general is sloppy and overly aggressive. This leads to problems on not only crosses but also tight angle shots. He's moving before he knows what he needs to do and the loss prep time stops himself from being able to get set. Just about every game a cross will come in and Blake will run two steps towards the ball then retreat back to the line, instead of simply reading the ball. Overall, his hands were weak this season and he fumbles too many shots, which also goes back to his issue with crosses. On 1v1 scenarios, he hopefully throws his body at the ball instead of calculating high percentage situations. His communication improved over the year but it took much too long for him to start commanding his team. Yet through all of this, MLS wants to reward him as the best.

On a whole, the 2016 MLS season was atrocious for goalkeepers so there it's somewhat understandable to just award it the goalkeeper with the best saves. There were only a handful of great performances this season and anyone saying Blake was the worst in the league would clearly be wrong. Ultimately the GOTY award going to Blake is only a repeating issue when dealing with the award. For example, if Nick Rimando can be awarded MLS's best goalkeeper of all-time and never win the seasonal award, something is not right. Recent years has seen the award end up with a less than deserving candidate more times than not.

A favorable solution on revamping the voting process isn't at hand. Ideally only people who are informed should vote, but drawing that line is impossible. If the league limited it to just MLS goalkeepers voting, we'd start to see some drastically different outcomes. But whatever the solution, we need to get away from voters watching a one minute video of a goalkeeper's saves to start understanding the strengths and weakness of the league's goalkeepers.