US Soccer Still Searching For Goalkeeper Identity

cover photo from FIFA.com

After another successful World Cup run for the US U20s, the US fell short in a tightly contested 2-1 loss to Ecuador. Despite this being the third consecutive U20 tournament where the US reached the quarterfinals, the goalkeeping situation left a familiar, unsatisfactory taste for most viewers. Since the turn of the century, American goalkeepers have largely struggled at the youth tournament, if not the professional scene as well. Jonathan Klinsmann and Cody Cropper performed well under par in 2017 and 2013, respectively. Zac MacMath (2011), Sean Johnson (2009), Chris Seitz (2007), Quentin Westberg (2005), Steve Cronin (2003), and DJ Countess (2001) would receive many accolades in their youth but all would go on to have polarizing professional careers. With more goalkeepers sinking than swimming during and after the U20 tournament - 2015 standout Zack Steffen being the rare exception - the problem can be linked to a lack of a consistent identity within the position.

Throughout the history of American goalkeepers, it’s hard to pin down just exactly what makes up an American style. At best, they can be best described as converted basketball players. As many former American goalkeepers pointed out in a previous interview, many looked forward to summer camps as their main chance to hear new information on the position. In spite of no consistent, high-end training environments, the typically multi-sport American goalkeeper would have exemplary hands and possessed a physically dominating athleticism. But the similarities ended there. Looking across the modern era, it’s easy to see that American goalkeepers come in all sorts of molds. Some are short, some are aggressive, some are good with their feet, and some are none of the above. From Steve Clark to Ashlyn Harris to Nick Rimando to Katelyn Rowland, there are a wide variety of styles within the professional goalkeeping scene.

The lack of goalkeeping identity has plagued not only the men’s U20 teams but all aspects of goalkeeping in the country. National team coaches have long debated as to whose style would best complement the team. On the men’s side, Tim Howard would play deep into the 2018 World Cup cycle, long past his prime, simply because there wasn’t a clear successor. Brad Guzan is almost the exact opposite goalkeeper as Howard and wasn’t a natural fit. After the Hope Solo era with the USWNT, many were slow to draw any comparison from Alyssa Naeher to Solo, with Ashlynn Harris being another wildly different goalkeeper. In the college game, coaches’ desired qualities for their starting goalkeeper vary from school-to-school, largely due to most having little or no background with goalkeeping. Youth and club goalkeeper coaches are, for the most part, developing players on an island, without any input or gauge from a recognized authority on what is correct.

Confusion over goalkeeper development has rippled far off the field as well. USSF licensing has barely broached the issues and while the USC has done their best to offer an open, discussion-oriented setting, ultimately it leaves applicants to simply taking note of different approaches instead of getting coaches on the same page. The media cannot keep pace with understanding what a good American goalkeeper looks like as it’s been a moving target. For one cycle, the US will field a “calm, composed goalkeeper who is a strong shot-stopper”. The next cycle they’ll turn to a “brave, aggressive goalkeeper who’s not afraid to challenge a cross”. Vague anecdotes run rampant in post-game write-ups and in-game commentary, praising a goalkeeper for whatever the observer notices. With everyone pointing different directions, there are no wrong answers but there are no right answers either.

For most of soccer’s history in the US, the country was plagued with not having enough goalkeeper coaches to foster a positive training environment. Now the pendulum has swung the opposite direction as coaching education is so widely available that we have an abundance of differing philosophies when it comes to goalkeeper development. This excess in opinions and loss of leadership from the USSF has led the landscape to develop every type of goalkeeper, instead of repeating known successes. When looking at other nations with top goalkeeping cores, there is a general mold their goalkeepers are in line with but the US’s lack of a team identity has bled over to the goalkeeping position. The absence of such a goalkeeper mold begs the question, “Why aren’t we modeling goalkeepers after Howard? Or Friedel? Scurry? Solo?”

Photo from  soccerwire.com

Photo from soccerwire.com

Rewinding back to the most recent U20 tournament, US head coach Tab Ramos struggled to sort out the number one position, which is odd given the team’s success in the tournament. Despite starting Brady Scott in the win over the expected winner (France), Ramos removed Scott for Real Salt Lake’s David Ochoa after many were underwhelmed with Scott’s performances in the tournament. The switch ultimately proved ineffective as Ochoa appeared awkward and uncomfortable when he was called upon during the game. Ochoa panicked multiple times when receiving a back-pass, displayed some dangerous hesitancy when coming off his line, and was severely out of position on the opening goal. Most of the problems Ochoa faced were not technical or mechanical issues, but tactical decisions, highlighting the point that he was unsure of how an American goalkeeper should play with this specific team. After two unsuccessful attempts to find a confident goalkeeper to lead the US, only Benfica’s CJ dos Santos was left minute-less by the end of the tournament, likely due to dos Santos’ aggressive, sweeper keeper tendencies being foreign to the coach who played alongside Tony Meola for most of his career. Out of three very different goalkeepers, none of them seemed to fit within the system.

For nearly every U20 goalkeeper, their development path will be littered with a dozen different goalkeeper coaches before they turn 25, each one emphasizing what they best see fit. While every goalkeeper coach would agree the main priority for an American goalkeeper is to keep the ball out of the net, the troubling dissonance is found in what constitutes as doing just that. Should American goalkeepers be aggressive on crosses? Are sweeper keepers a better fit? Do coaches want to see more catches or parries? What is the US’s stance on implementing foot saves as a major factor for low saves? How should goalkeepers approach 1v1s? After not having a Director of Goalkeeping within USSF since 2005, should the federation look to fill the vacancy with one of the many qualified coaches throughout the country? Finding answers to these questions is not the problem, but the lack of the USSF’s direction with goalkeeper development is.

MLS Goalkeepers on the Offseason

Following last year’s article, Everybody Soccer returns to inform fans on how their favorite MLS goalkeepers kept themselves busy this winter. From a wide variety of answers, it’s clear to see that there’s no one right way for how an athlete should best prepare for the nine month season. Special thanks go out to independent contractors Hunter Beck, Jared Dryden, JT Hill, Jacob Klotz, Tanner Sharp, and Barrett Smith for their diligent reporting.

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Top USYNT Goalkeepers by Birth Year

Early in the week we dove into the top 100 American goalkeepers on the men’s side so to give some face time for the young guns coming up, here are the top eight goalkeepers from each birth year. Goalkeepers are ranked more on ceiling and potential and less about current form. Not every goalkeeper’s birth year is public so some of the goalkeepers may be placed up or down a year.

# - recently graduated

1995

1. Jane Campbell (Houston Dash)
2. Courtney Brosnan (Le Havre)
3. Lauren Clem (Uppsala)
4. Cassie Miller (PSV Eindhoven)
5. Mallory Geurts (Västerås BK30)
6. Danielle Rice (Assi)
7. Alison Jahansouz (Stanford) #
8. Hannah Seabert (Fortuna Hjorring)

1. Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge)
2. Zack Steffen (Columbus Crew)
3. Jesse Gonzalez (FC Dallas)
4. Todd Morton (Delaware) #
5. Bobby Edwards (Mount St. Mary's) #
6. Michael Nelson (Houston Dynamo)
7. Ben Lundgaard (Columbus Crew)
8. Rashid Nuhu (Fordham) #

1996

1. Casey Murphy (Montpellier)
2. Emily Boyd (Chicago Red Stars)
3. Lainey Burdett (Arizona) #
4. Ella Dederick (Washington State) #
5. Rachel Egyed (Maryland) #
6. Caroline Brockmeier (LSU) #
7. Kelsey Daugherty (UAB) #
8. Rachel Lusby (Portland) #

1. Jeff Caldwell (New York City FC)
2. Benjamin Machini (Burgos CF)
3. Evan Louro (New York Red Bulls)
4. Paul Christensen (Atlanta United 2)
5. Luis Barraza (Marquette) #
6. Mike Novotny (Hartford Athletic)
7. Ben Willis (Gonzaga) #
8 Ryan Cretens (UNC Wilmington) #

1997

1. Jalen Tompkins (Colorado)
2. Kaelyn Johns (Dayton)
3. Cosette Morche (Texas A&M)
4. Paige Simoneau (San Jose State) #
5. Devon Kerr (Ohio State) #
6. Lauren Rood (Stanford)
7. Hannah Luedtke (Butler)
8. Reilley Ott (Michigan State)

1. JT Marcinkowski (San Jose Earthquakes)
2. Jonathan Klinsmann (Hertha BSC)
3. Justin vom Steeg (Los Angeles Galaxy)
4. Jimmy Slayton (Hartford)
5. Briley Guarneri (Colorado Mesa) #
6. Parker Siegfried (Ohio State)
7. Jacob Harris (Colgate)
8. Chase Gentry (Tulsa Roughnecks)

1998

1. Mikayla Krzeczowski (South Carolina)
2. Kaylie Collins (USC)
3. Jaelyn Cunningham (Illinois)
4. Brooke Heinsohn (Duke)
5. Mandy McGlynn (Virginia Tech)
6. Amanda Fitzgerald (Fairleigh Dickinson)
7. Abby Stapleton (Charlotte)
8. Amanda Dennis (Penn State)

1. Abraham Romero (Pachuca)
2. Kevin Silva (Hearts of Midlothian)
3. Chase Vosvick (Loyola Maryland)
4. Ben Hale (Furman)
5. Will Pulisic (Duke)
6. Matt Freese (Philadelphia Union)
7. Colin Shutler (Virginia)
8. Drew Romig (North Carolina)

1999 and Younger

1. Claudia Dickey (North Carolina)
2. Hillary Beall (Michigan)
3. Laurel Ivory (Virginia)
4. Brooke Bollinger (Florida State)
5. Lauren Brzykcy (UCLA)
6. Mackenzie Wood (Northwestern)
7. Hensley Hancuff (Villanova)
8. Angelina Anderson (California)

1. Carlos dos Santos (Benfica)
2. Eric Lopez (Los Angeles Galaxy II)
3. Nicolas Defreitas-Hansen (Everton)
4. Brady Scott (FC Köln)
5. Damian Las (Chicago Fire)
6. Luca Lewis (Torino)
7. Ethan Wady (Chelsea)
8. Sam Fowler (Washington)

cover photo from the Trentonian

Can the USWNT Learn Anything from the Canadian Hockey League?

cover photo belongs to ISI Photo

Back in the summer of 2013, the Canadian Hockey League made a surprise announcement when they put a ban on foreign goalies entering the league. The ban - specifically aimed at talented European goaltenders - limited teams from drafting any non-North American goalies in the three junior leagues (all under the CHL) in an attempt to give more playing time for Canadians to aide in their development. The move was a response to the country’s perceived goaltending crisis, where many viewed the netminders as a major weak point in Canadian hockey. Even as recently as summer 2017, the goalie development crisis was still a concern for some despite the league’s efforts to mend the issue. However the CHL rolled back the ban this summer, citing improvements to goalie development, although there is still some debate on the impact of the short-lived rule.

Turning to the USSF, it’s no secret goalkeeper development hasn’t been at its best in recent years. While the USMNT is struggling to fill out their second and third slots with proven talent, the USWNT is in a tight spot as well. Replacing Hope Solo has been more challenging than expected, collegiate production seems to have hit a bit of a lull, and looking back at the 2018 Women’s U20 World Cup, goalkeeping wasn’t exactly the strong point in their tournament run.

Looking at both Hockey Canada and USWNT, there are some similarities between the two organizations’ last line of defense in terms of development. When Hockey Canada introduced the ban, it wasn’t a knee-jerk reaction after a few poor games. The ban was put in place after many realized the lack of representation of top Canadian goalies in both the professional leagues as well as the youth leagues. While stating the USWNT’s goalkeeper situation as a “crisis” is a bit excessive, the US has still yet to develop a goalkeeper at the level of Briana Scurry or Hope Solo nor is on track to do so. Both programs were once producing top-level goaltenders yet they’ve slowed their production in recent years.

To understand if Hockey Canada’s approach would be a good fit for the NWSL, it’s important to look at the problems plaguing the USWNT’s goalkeeper pool.

1. There is no one directing goalkeeper development within US Soccer - The last person to fill this spot was Peter Mellor back in 2005 before he moved to work solely with Real Salt Lake. Since then the standard for how a goalkeeper develops has been overseen by each coach on their own accord, from professional and youth clubs alike. At most, the federation has given vague guidelines on how goalkeepers must be developed through their licensing classes. Unfortunately most USSF coaching licenses spend little time on the position and typically are led by coaches who have never played goalkeeper. The USSF only recently started an A license goalkeeping course but featured zero NWSL goalkeeper coaches.

USYNT goalkeeper coaches work in a revolving door fashion, offering little consistency for who players will be training with from camp to camp. On the club’s side, a number of WPSL and UWS teams don’t have a goalkeeper coach while finding a collegiate problem with a goalkeeping coach who has been there for four years is tough to find. Additionally, NWSL coaches are limited to developing their second-string goalkeepers through practice, as it’s tough to find meaningful minutes for young backups.

The landscape for goalkeeping coaches in America is a mess. For every one positive goalkeeping environment in the US, there are another ten negative ones. Having a Director of Goalkeeping would ideally oversee the development for top-level goalkeepers, but also assist in making sure goalkeeper coaches across the country are on the right path when training their own goalkeepers.

A few months ago, Tab Ramos told SoccerAmerica how he’s aware of the need yet was currently in a hiring freeze, although since then the freeze seems to have been lifted. As of right now, the USSF has yet to name someone to oversee goalkeeper development on a full-time basis.

Rose Chandler holding the Golden Glove award from the 2016 CONCACAF Under-20 Women's Championship. Chandler did not return for her senior year at Penn State.  Photo from    gopsusports.com

Rose Chandler holding the Golden Glove award from the 2016 CONCACAF Under-20 Women's Championship. Chandler did not return for her senior year at Penn State. Photo from gopsusports.com

2. The dropout rate is too high - Just in the last few years, the women’s goalkeeping pool has lost a number of young prospects. Libby Stout, Caroline Stanley, Madalyn Schiffel, Brianna Smallidge, EJ Proctor, Alyssa Giannetti, Rose Chandler, and Evangeline Soucie have all retired for a variety of reasons. For some, retirement was unavoidable due to injuries but as a whole, there are far too many goalkeepers simply opting out for another career track outside of professional soccer.

Some may argue that goalkeepers who retire young aren’t in contention to truly compete for the USWNT’s starting spot and while it’s not fair to make a claim that early in a player’s career, it’s also missing the bigger issue. Top goalkeepers are only pushed by those who are under them. If there’s not enough talent to compete for a starting spot, things can easily become stagnant.

The dropout rate is a hard problem to combat, as money is a major driving force in persuading any career pursuit, but it’s one that is quietly draining the goalkeeping pool.

3. The path to professionalism is too muddied - Looking back to the 2018 U20 Women’s World Cup, players entered the tournament from top clubs all around the world. French players came from PSG and Lyon. German players arrived from Turbine Potsdam and Bayern Munich. English players trained at Manchester City and Liverpool. Spanish players hailed from Barcelona and Atletico Madrid. In contrast, the US is relying heavily on the collegiate system, a training environment that plays four months out of the year. It’s a tall task for the University of Virginia to match Lyon or Barcelona’s resources.


Assuming a player is able to navigate a grueling four years playing in a jam-packed schedule, the road only gets tougher. Roster spots are scarce for rookies in the NWSL and even more challenging for goalkeepers as most teams only carry two. Some may look at the WPSL and UWS as helpful stopgaps but the reality is most of those teams rely heavily on collegiate players outside the D-1 level. It’s barely a developing ground for top collegiate players but certainly not aspiring professionals.

Unless there are dramatic changes to the collegiate setup, the USSF will eventually have to entice players to skip college altogether if they want to continue to compete with the world. Despite all it has to offer, UNC won’t be able to provide the same level of commitment as PSG and Lyon continue to ramp up what they have to offer their youth players. Until then a player whose sights are set on joining the NWSL has a large task in front of them: they must finish their cumbersome college career as a top U23 player in the world - by only training with their team for a third of the year - and somehow land a golden ticket to join an NWSL side full-time. Anything less and the player is likely looking at another career path. As of right now, there’s not a better domestic track provided for young players.

It’s hard to be optimistic towards the situation when the USSF is rolling out A licensing courses without NWSL coaches or presenting initiatives like bio-banding, a program that groups players by their physical development to alleviate the problem of coaches not appropriately challenging early and late bloomers. The program is a wonderful example of the USSF seeing a problem but being unaware of what is causing the complication. If the problem is centered on coaches not doing their job well, then reshuffling the deck isn’t going to address the issue. (Adnan Ilyas has a great write-up on more issues with bio-banding.)

Similar to the CHL’s approach, if Canadian goalies aren’t good enough, giving them more chances to fail will only help so much. The CHL raised the idea of new coaching certification to help with goalie development but according to In Goal Magazine, “five years later the impact seems to depend on where you live, with some regions accrediting coaches regularly and coaches in other areas that still haven’t heard of it, let alone opportunities to take the course.” It seems the CHL’s plan was half-hearted, not to mention short-lived.

Development is not solved solely by high-level game appearances. It must be addressed in a top-down manner. From USWNT training sessions to the grassroots level, the USSF must be keen on having a system that yields positive results and not simply rely on removing tougher competition or hoping a coach can figure it out on their own. While putting a ban on foreign goalkeepers in the NWSL might be a positive dose for the American pool, it doesn’t address the position in a more thorough manner. The NWSL is a premier league trying to elevate the level of its play, as well as the top domestic players. There are only so many young goalkeepers who can hop right into the league. Unless the NWSL is interested in lowering the level of play, a handful of extra games for young goalkeepers only will help so much.

There are a number of directions the USSF can take when approaching goalkeeper development but copying the CHL will likely result in a similar reversal of the ban in a short time. Looking across the globe, countries are continuing to put more resources into raising the level of play in their respective domestic leagues and youth national team development. In contrast, the US has yet to see any substantial improvements in the goalkeeping department over the past few years and the output is starting to show. In order for the USWNT to stay on top, simply outsourcing goalkeeper development to whoever is interested won’t be enough anymore.