Top Goalkeepers in Women's Soccer (2019)

The Women’s World Cup has finally come to a close but for those clamoring for more, the Olympic tournament is right around the corner. Until then most of the top goalkeepers will return to their clubs in England, France, Germany, and the US. This year’s list expands to include the top 60 in the world, as well as another 30 up-and-coming goalkeepers. Special thanks to Mouhamad Rachini for assisting with the rankings. Cover photo from FIFA.

1. Almuth Schult, GER (Wolfsburg) - 28
2. Tinja-Riikka Korpela, FIN (Valerenga, Norway) - 33
3. Sari van Veenendaal, NET (Arsenal, England) - 29
4. Alyssa Naeher, USA (Chicago Red Stars) - 31
5. Karen Bardsley, ENG (Manchester City) - 34
6. Stephanie Ohrstrom, SWE (Fiorentina, Italy) - 32
7. Lisa Schmitz, GER (Turbine Potsdam) - 27
8. Christiane Endler, CHI (PSG, France) - 27
9. Carly Telford, ENG (Chelsea) - 31
10. Katarzyna Kiedrzynek, POL (PSG, France) - 28

One to watch: PSG’s goalkeeper situation. Despite Endler’s World Cup heroics, it was Kiedrzynek who started 15 of 22 matches for PSG last season. It makes sense to see one of the goalkeepers slide to another club where they’ll be the proper starter but it’s tough to say which one. Kiedrzynek has the seniority but Endler’s stock has taken a massive bump in the last month. Kiedrzynek enters her seventh season with PSG, but it feels like a coin flip as to who will receive the majority of playing time. (For more on Endler’s background and recent surge, head over to Between the Sticks’ cover story on the Chilean goalkeeper.)

11. Aubrey Bledsoe, USA (Washington Spirit, USA) - 27
12. Lisa Weiss, GER (Lyon, France) - 31
13. Ashlyn Harris, USA (Orlando Pride, USA) - 33
14. Erin McLeod, CAN (Vaxjo, Sweden) - 36
15. Sandra Paños, SPA (Barcelona, Spain) - 26
16. Stephanie Labbé, CAN (North Carolina Courage, USA) - 32
17. Lydia Williams, AUS (Seattle Reign, USA) - 31
18. Adrianna Franch, USA (Portland Thorns) - 28
19. Laura O'Sullivan, WAL (Cardiff City, England) - 27
20. Mary Earps, ENG (Wolfsburg, Germany) - 26

One to watch: Aubrey Bledsoe. Heading into the World Cup, there were many questioning Alyssa Naeher’s ability in goal for the US. Now after Naeher’s outstanding semifinal performance against Spain, Bledsoe’s job of unseating the incumbent became even more difficult. Bledsoe has been working overtime the last two years, earning 61 starts between the NWSL and Australia’s W-League in the last 24 months. Bledsoe surely knows what’s within reach, but her toughest task of becoming the number one for the US is just beginning.

21. Sarah Bouhaddi, FRA (Lyon) - 32
22. Britt Eckerstrom, USA (Portland Thorns) - 26
23. Katie Fraine, USA (Vaxjo, Sweden) - 31
24. Michelle Betos, USA (Seattle Reign) - 31
25. Kateryna Samson, UKR (Ryazan, Russia) - 30
26. Gaelle Thalmann, SWI (Reggiana, Italy) - 33
27. Sabrina D'Angelo, CAN (Vittsjo, Sweden) - 26
28. Lee Alexander, SCO (Glasgow City) - 27
29. Laura Giuliani, ITA (Juventus) - 26
30. Oxana Zheleznyak, KAZ (BIIK Kazygurt) - 32

One to watch: Sabrina D'Angelo. After running into a crowded goalkeeping situation with the North Carolina Courage, D’Angelo moved east to Sweden’s Vittsjö. While the club is struggling to stay out of the relegation zone (currently sitting just one point above the line), D’Angelo is getting the playing time she was looking for. Canada’s goalkeeping position will soon start the process of passing the torch to the new guard, but D'Angelo’s resume might need to bolster up a bit before fans feel comfortable with her in net.

31. Erin Nayler, NZ (Bordeaux, France) - 27
32. Haley Kopmeyer, USA (Orlando Pride) - 29
33. Laetitia Philippe, FRA (Rodez) - 28
34. Didi Haracic, BOS (Washington Spirit, USA) - 27
35. Meline Gerard, FRA (Free Agent) - 29
36. Karima Benameur, FRA (Paris FC) - 30
37. Katrine Abel, DEN (Brondby) - 29
38. Erina Yamane, JPN (Real Betis, Spain) - 28
39. Pauline Magnin, FRA (Arsenal, England) - 27
40. Anke Preuss, GER (Liverpool, England) - 26

One to watch: Meline Gerard. After being named a backup to American goalkeeper Casey Murphy, the longtime French national team back up walked away from Montpellier. An injury in the fall gave her another hurdle to returning the field, putting the once-promising goalkeeper a full fourteen months from her last professional match. Gerard announced in May she was working on receiving a coaching license but a Facebook post last month seems to imply she still has something left to prove on the field. Gerard might or might not have gas left in the tank, but the answer will surely come sooner than later.

41. Laura Benkarth, GER (Bayern Munich) - 26
42. Romane Munich, FRA (Soyaux) - 24
43. Patricia Morais, POR (Sporting CP) - 27
44. Barbara Lorsheijd, NET (ADO Den Haag) - 28
45. Nora Gjøen, NOR (Sandviken) - 27
46. Bryane Heaberlin, USA (Frankfurt, Germany) - 25
47. Jennifer Falk, SWE (Goteborg) - 26
48. Rute Costa, POR (Braga) - 25
49. Loes Geurts, NET (Goteborg, Sweden) - 33
50. Hedvig Lindahl, SWE (Chelsea, England) - 36

One to watch: Laura Benkarth. An ACL/MCL tear cut most of 2018 short for Benkarth but the recovery went so well she worked herself in a World Cup roster spot. Bayern Munich has a slew of strong, young goalkeepers going into next season with Austrian international Manuela Zinsberger (23), former Dutch U20 starter Jacintha Weimar (21), and Finnish U20 starter Katriina Talaslahti (18). It’s a hand-picked goalkeeping core that will be tough for Benkarth to emerge from. If she can nail down the starting spot for Bayern Munich, expect to see more from Benkarth on even bigger stages.

51. Emily Dolan, USA (Real Betis, Spain) - 24
52. Bárbara, BRA (Kindermann) - 30
53. Mackenzie Arnold, AUS (Brisbane Roar) - 25
54. Meike Kamper, GER (Duisburg) - 25
55. Nicole Barnhart, USA (Utah Royals) - 37
56. Lindsey Harris, USA (Klepp, Norway) - 25
57. Jane Campbell, USA (Houston Dash) - 24
58. Deborah Garcia, FRA (Rodez) - 24
59. Vanina Correa, ARG (Rosario Central) - 30
60. Emily Armstrong, USA (Sundsvall, Sweden) - 25

One to watch: Mackenzie Arnold. After a lackluster World Cup performance from Australian starter Lydia Williams, Arnold could theoretically work her way into the starting spot for the Olympic tournament in 12 months. Arnold hasn’t been playing regularly since February, at the conclusion of the W-League, and will probably need some more game time under her belt to truly make a push for Australia’s number one spot. But she’s certainly in a position to impress the higher-ups if the next year goes well for her.

Top 30 Under 24

1. Ellie Roebuck, ENG (Manchester City) - 19
2. Carina Schluter, GER (SC Sand) - 22
3. Elena, SPA (Fundacion Albacete) - 22
4. Elisa Launay, FRA (Lille) - 23
5. Anneke Borbe, GER (Werder Bremen) - 18
6. Zecira Musovic, SWE (Rosengard) - 23
7. Peng Shimeng, CHI (Jiangsu Suning) - 21
8. Stephanie Bukovec, CRO (ZNK Split) - 23
9. Cindy Perrault, FRA (Grenoble Foot) - 23
10. Sara Serrat, SPA (Huelva) - 23

One to watch: Ellie Roebuck. Second place WSL finisher Manchester City relied heavily on the teenage goalkeeper. Roebuck, who started 15 of the club’s 20 matches, has earned two caps with the English national team over the last year. Roebuck is so highly regarded that she not only signed a two-year extension with Manchester City but served as a surplus traveling member for England’s World Cup team this summer. When compared to her peers, Roebuck is in a league of her own.

11. Ayaka Yamashita, JPN (Nippon TV Beleza) - 23
12. Romane Bruneau, FRA (Girondins de Bordeaux) - 22
13. Cecilie Fiskerstrand, NOR (Lillestrom) - 23
14. Maria Quinones, SPA (Real Sociedad) - 22
15. Kailen Sheridan, CAN (Sky Blue FC, USA) - 23
16. Aurora Mikalsen, NOR (Kolbotn) - 23
17. Lena Pauels, GER (Werder Bremen) - 21
18. Casey Murphy, USA (Seattle Reign) - 23
19. Manuela Zinsberger, AUS (Bayern Munich, Germany) - 23
20. Sophie Baggaley, ENG (Bristol City) - 22

One to watch: Casey Murphy. Murphy is the next logical choice in the post-Alyssa Naeher era for many US fans. At 23, she’s certainly accomplished more than her American counterparts, leaving college early to play in France for two years with Montpellier. She’s recently returned stateside, filling in for Lydia Williams’ absence with the World Cup team. Murphy will likely be fast-tracked going forward by some NWSL side, whether it is Seattle or not, but the competition for a starting spot in the NWSL is unlike any other position in the league.

21. Chika Hirao, JPN (Albirex Niigata) - 22
22. Emily Boyd, USA (Chicago Red Stars) - 22
23. Lisa Klostermann, GER (SGS Essen) - 20
24. Jalen Tompkins, USA (University of Colorado) - 22
25. Ana, SPA (Rayo Vallecano) - 21
26. Mikayla Krzeczowski, USA (University of South Carolina) - 21
27. Matilda Haglund, SWE (Linkoping) - 22
28. Ella Dederick, USA (Washington State University) - 22
29. Alessia Piazza, ITA (Tavagnacco) - 21
30. Lize Kop, NET (Ajax) - 21

One to watch: Ella Dederick. Back in February, Washington State was happy to announce that Dederick was granted an additional year of eligibility after a knee injury cut last fall short. Dederick was on pace to be a top goalkeeper in the 2019 NWSL draft before the unfortunate setback. Now with a new lease on her playing career, Dederick will be a top draft pick for 2020 if everything goes as planned. Dederick’s fitness and playing level will be unveiled in August and if she can stay healthy through the grueling fall, look to see her name on everyone’s draft board in January.

Past Rankings:
2018
2017
2016

The World's Top Goalkeepers (2019)

Everybody Soccer returns with the annual list of top goalkeepers in the world. This year features 50 of the current top goalkeepers as well as another 50 goalkeepers under the age of 24. While some goalkeepers are likely to be sent out on loan (Sergio Rico and Kevin Trapp for example), the parent club has been listed unless an official deal has been made. Check back next month for a similar list for the women’s game. Cover photo from DW.com.

1. Marc ter Stegen, Germany (Barcelona, SPA) - 27
2. Jan Oblak, Slovenia (Atlético Madrid, SPA) - 26
3. Keylor Navas, Costa Rica (Real Madrid, SPA) - 32
4. David de Gea, Spain (Manchester United, ENG) - 28
5. Ederson, Brazil (Manchester City, ENG) - 25
6. Alisson, Brazil (Liverpool, ENG) - 26
7. Yann Sommer, Switzerland (Mönchengladbach, GER) - 30
8. Rui Patrício, Portugal (Wolverhampton, ENG) - 31
9. Thibaut Courtois, Belgium (Real Madrid, SPA) - 27
10. Lukas Hradecky, Finland (Bayer Leverkusen, GER) - 29

One to Watch: Thibaut Courtois. Courtois’ vast, negative reception after receiving the 2018 World Cup Golden Glove has been strange, to say the least. Courtois is far from one of football’s villains, although he can be quite the prick at times, but there seem to be more rooting for him to fail than succeed at Real Madrid. Often described as one of the worst best goalkeepers in the world, Courtois should finally have Real Madrid to himself with the pending exit of Keylor Navas. Real Madrid isn’t known as a club with patience and if Courtois can’t prove to his critics he’s worthy of the starting spot, don’t expect him to stick around too long.

11. Bernd Leno, Germany (Arsenal, ENG) - 27
12. Hugo Lloris, France (Tottenham Hotspur, ENG) - 32
13. Jasper Cillessen, Netherlands (Barcelona, SPA) - 30
14. Salvatore Sirigu, Italy (Torino) - 32
15. Manuel Neuer, Germany (Bayern Munich) - 33
16. Lukasz Fabianski, Poland (West Ham United, ENG) - 34
17. Anthony Lopes, Portugal (Lyon, FRA) - 28
18. Kepa Arrizabalaga, Spain (Chelsea, ENG) - 24
19. Sven Ulreich, Germany (Bayern Munich) - 29
20. Roman Bürki, Switzerland (Dortmund, GER) - 28

One to Watch: Jasper Cillessen. The longtime backup for Barcelona is finally getting a fresh start and hopefully his own net. After being linked with a number of Premier League clubs, it seems Valencia will be the new home for the Dutch goalkeeper. Cillessen may be looking at less hardware with Valencia when compared to Barcelona, but he’ll still be seeing Champions League matches and be in the middle of a tightly contested La Liga table to return to the prestigious tournament next year. Cillessen has long awaited his breakout chance but now it’s up to him to prove he’s more than a great backup.

21. Alphonse Areola, France (PSG) - 26
22. Jordan Pickford, England (Everton) - 25
23. Kasper Schmeichel, Denmark (Leicester City, ENG) - 32
24. Martin Dubravka, Slovakia (Newcastle United, ENG) - 30
25. Etrit Berisha, Albania (Atalanta, Italy) - 30
26. Bono, Morocco (Girona, Spain) - 28
27. Pau López, Spain (Betis, Roma) - 24
28. Samir Handanovic, Slovenia (Inter, ITA) - 34
29. Adrián, Spain (Free Agent) - 32
30. Ralf Fährmann, Germany (FC Schalke 04) - 29

One to Watch: Alphonse Areola. Despite PSG bringing in Italian legend Gianluigi Buffon last year, Areola still started 21 of 38 matches and is set to take on an even larger role at the club. With Ligue 1 continually playing little brother to the top four leagues, Areola has the chance to showcase his talents in a way that could put him on a bigger stage and give PSG a nice reward on the way out. Areola’s ceiling is still up to much debate. He could be one of the best goalkeepers in Ligue 1 history or he might be contending for something more if 2019-20 falls in line.

31. Wojciech Szczesny, Poland (Juventus, ITA) - 29
32. Kevin Trapp, Germany (PSG, FRA) - 27
33. Fernando Muslera, Uruguay (Galatasaray, TUR) - 33
34. Asmir Begovic, Bosnia and Herzegovina (Bournemouth, ENG) - 32
35. Igor Akinfeev, Russia (CSKA Moscow, RUS) - 33
36. Fernando Pacheco, Spain (Alavés) - 27
37. Gianluigi Buffon, Italy (PSG, FRA) - 41
38. David Ospina, Colombia (Napoli, ITA) - 30
39. Alexander Schwolow, Germany (Freiburg) - 27
40. Mattia Perin, Italy (Juventus) - 26

One to Watch: Mattia Perin. Things are far from settled but Perin seems more out than in at Juventus. Perin unsuccessfully attempted to dethrone Wojciech Szczesny, only starting nine league matches before needing surgery for a dislocated shoulder. Roma and Perin have been tied but the once future successor at Juventus is now scrambling to find a club that would invest in him between the posts.


41. Aitor Fernandez, Spain (Levante) - 28
42. Matheus, Brazil (SC Braga, POR) - 26
43. Mathew Ryan, Australia (Brighton, ENG) - 27
44. Jiri Pavlenka, Czech Republic (Werder Bremen, GER) - 27
45. Timo Horn, Germany (1. FC Köln) - 26
46. Sergio Rico, Spain (Sevilla) - 25
47. Jordi Masip, Spain (Real Valladolid) - 30
48. Iago Herrerín, Spain (Athletic Bilbao) - 31
49. Simon Sluga, Croatia (Rijeka) - 26
50. Alex McCarthy, England (Southampton) - 29

One to Watch: Sergio Rico. Sevilla is passing on Sergio Rico for Czech veteran Tomas Vaclik so Rico’s return back to Fulham, where he started the final 29 matches of the season, seems more than plausible. There weren’t too many 25-year-olds starting in the EPL last year and Fulham showed some true loyalty in Rico by sticking with him even in the midst of a 12 points over 18 match run to finish in the relegation zone. England’s second division is no cakewalk so if Rico does return, it may be an even tougher test than the Premier League.

Top 50 Goalkeepers Under 24

1. Gianluigi Donnarumma, Italy (AC Milan) - 20
2. Ionut Radu, Romania (Inter, ITA) - 22
3. Okan Kocuk, Turkey (Bursaspor) - 23
4. Michael Verrips, Netherlands (KV Mechelen, BEL) - 22
5. Felipe Lopez, Mexico (Leones Negros) - 23
6. Alex Meret, Italy (Napoli) - 22
7. Rubén Blanco, Spain (Celta de Vigo) - 23
8. Roberto Ramirez, Argentina (Godoy Cruz) - 22
9. Simone Scuffet, Italy (Udinese Calcio) - 23
10. Daniel Mesenhöler, Germany (MSV Duisburg) - 23

One to Watch: Ionut Radu. Italy has a pair of young, exciting goalkeepers at two of its more prominent clubs. Radu, who recently sent shockwaves throughout the soccer community for his heartfelt tribute to his sister, is in contention to put Romania into the 2020 Olympics with the U23 side. Arsenal reportedly has interest in the young goalkeeper but he’s also been public about returning to Genoa as a positive situation. If it’s not Arsenal, Radu will have his pick of the lot sooner than later.


11. Toma Niga, Romania (FCSB) - 21
12. André Onana, Cameroon (Ajax, NET) - 23
13. Adrian Semper, Croatia (Dinamo Zagreb) - 21
14. Luca Zidane, France (Real Madrid, SPA) - 21
15. Tiepo, Brazil (Chapecoense) - 21
16. Denis Scherbitski, Belarus (BATE Borisov) - 23
17. Dragan Rosic, Serbia (Mladost) - 22
18. Arijanet Muric, Kosovo (Manchester City, ENG) - 20
19. Boris Radunović, Serbia (Atalanta, ITA) - 23
20. Emil Audero, Italy (Sampdoria) - 22

One to Watch: Arijanet Muric. American fans might be familiar with Zack Steffen’s move to Manchester City but it’s Muric’s rise to power that viewers should watch closely. At 20 years young, Muric has already been capped five times by Kosovo, proving how goalkeepers can come from even the 121st ranked nations. A shocking 4-0-2 run by Kosovo, paired with a +29 jump in Elo rankings, promoted them to League C in the UEFA Nations League and could be a sign of more things to come.

21. Alexander Nübel, Germany (FC Schalke 04) - 22
22. Ugurcan Caki, Turkey (Trabzonspor) - 23
23. Joe Wildsmith, England (Sheffield Wednesday) - 23
24. Mike Maignan, France (Lille) - 23
25. Angus Gunn, England (Southampton) - 23
26. Andrea Zaccagno, Italy (Torino) - 22
27. Alban Lafont, France (Fiorentina, ITA) - 20
28. Álex Dos Santos, Brazil (Atlético Madrid, SPA) - 20
29. Andriy Lunin, Ukraine (Real Madrid, SPA) - 20
30. Gregor Kobel, Switzerland (Hoffenheim, GER) - 21

One to Watch: Andriy Lunin. Lunin managed to earn five starts for CD Leganés last season (where he was loaned from Real Madrid) but his biggest achievement came this summer, where he led Ukraine in goal during their championship run in the U20 World Cup. Lunin was given the Golden Glove in the U20 tournament after conceding just four goals in seven games. After originally being slated to go back out on loan to Leganés, Goal.com says Lunin is a likely candidate for the number two with Real Madrid. Fans may not get to watch much of Lunin during league play yet again but he’ll surely get his chance to prove his merit in various cup matches throughout the season.

31. Per Kristian Bratveit, Norway (Djurgarden, SWE) - 23
32. Nordin Jackers, Belgium (Genk) - 21
33. David Raya, Spain (Blackburn Rovers, ENG) - 23
34. Josip Posavec, Croatia (Hajduk Split) - 23
35. José Aurelio Suárez, Spain (Girona) - 23
36. Phillip Menzel, Germany (Wolfsburg) - 20
37. Anton Mitryushkin, Russia (Sion, SWI) - 23
38. Alexander Schlager, Austria (LASK) - 23
39. Sondre Rossbach, Norway (Odds) - 23
40. Mile Svilar, Belgium (Benfica, POR) - 19

One to Watch: Phillip Menzel. Wolfsburg’s reserve team just missed promotion with a tightly contested battle with Bayern Munich’s second team. Menzel’s tenure in the fourth division was still largely successful, compiling a 24-4-2 record throughout the season. Wolfsburg may look to send him back with the reserve side or, as Sportbuzzer reports, a loan to a third division side could be a natural progression for the German U20 goalkeeper. For those unfamiliar with Menzel’s game, think Lukasz Fabianski. It can be a little clunky at times, but the U20 German goalkeeper has an uncanny nose for the ball and a Michael Jordan hangtime-esque extension save. While first-team chances are close to zero for the time being, it’s more of a “not if but when” situation with Menzel.

41. Altay Bayindir, Turkey (Ankaragücü) - 21
42. Sebastian Jurado, Mexico (Tiburones Rojos) - 21
43. Justin Bijlow, Netherlands (Feyenoord) - 21
44. Antonio Sivera, Spain (Alavés) - 22
45. Nils Körber, Germany (Osnabruck) - 22
46. Rok Vodisek, Slovenia (Genoa, ITA) - 20
47. Pontus Dahlberg, Sweden (Watford, ENG) - 20
48. Javier Belman, Spain (Real Madrid) - 20
49. Dominik Kotarski, Croatia (Ajax, Netherlands) - 19
50. Michele Di Gregorio, Italy (Inter) - 21

One to Watch: Pontus Dahlberg. For Watford fans, Dahlberg has been a non-factor since joining the club 18 months ago and has probably been forgotten by some of the supporters. However Dahlberg picked up his first cap with the Swedish national team in January and followed up the 1-1 tie to Estonia by just barely missing the cutoff for the European Under-21 Championship. Dahlberg, who has been sitting for some time with Watford, seems prime to be loaned out and begin being groomed for the starting position for the Hornets.

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.

USL Expansion Is Saving the American Goalkeeper

cover photo from Soccer Today

For the past few years there’s been a growing concern about the development of the American player. With MLS putting heavy resources into bringing foreign players into the league, the future for domestic talent was left unclear. Questions surfaced about MLS’ ability to simultaneously rise the overall talent level of the league and aide the development for Americans at the same time.

Heading into 2018, MLS goalkeepers’ salaries had stagnated in their growth. While it was a problem for the league’s position regardless of nationality, it was a pretty clear sign that American goalkeepers weren’t seeing as much of an investment from the league as other positions were. As teams across the league looked for their Wayne Rooney-equivalent, they also refrained from shelling out for goalkeepers. The past decade has been earmarked with the league cutting corners on not only developing young players but also getting top goalkeepers in the league, which unsurprisingly were tied to each other.

MLS has unrolled nine new teams (and lost one) since 2010. The new roster spots have been a nice addition for American players who couldn’t catch on elsewhere in MLS, but the lower leagues have shown more substantial gains in real estate. In the same time span that MLS grew by eight teams, lower tiers (a combination of USL, NASL, and NISA) have grown by a total of 32 teams.

Expanding the American Goalkeeper Landscape

How many American goalkeepers earned 10 league appearances by year and age. The top chart is by percentage, while the bottom chart is raw numbers. 2019 are projections.

How many American goalkeepers earned 10 league appearances by year and age. The top chart is by percentage, while the bottom chart is raw numbers. 2019 are projections.

To best show how the landscape has changed for American goalkeepers, I tracked every goalkeeper who made 10 league appearances since 2010 by year and age. It’s not a perfect method, but the goal was to see how teams invested their most valuable (league competition) and regular playing time when it came to their goalkeepers. While late round USOC and CCL games are treated important, most teams’ lineups vary from B+ to C- squads in the early rounds so league play was the most consistent standard when gauging teams’ investments.

Looking at the two charts, the yellow-to-white-to-blue scale shows the slices of each group by year. The 34 and older age group has dwindled significantly since 2010, while the 22-25 has doubled. “Non-US” accounts all players who can’t play for the USMNT, with the age of the goalkeeper being irrelevant for this category. Similarly, the second chart (green-white-blue) gives the raw numbers for each section.

Again, it’s important to note that these numbers are not roster spots, but a gauge of playing time MLS, USL and NASL teams devoted to the goalkeeping position. It’s one thing to make the game day roster, it’s quite another to play a third of the team’s games. Looking at the numbers, there are three major trends that immediately stand out.

1. Playing time for foreign goalkeepers has stayed fairly consistent - It’s hard to say what a good share of foreigners is in any country’s pyramid should be. When considering American development within the professional game, it’s good to remember that it’s not about removing foreigners but simply getting the correct talent in place. If a MLS, USL, and NISA team can find a better player - in any position - at an appropriate price, raising the level of competition serves teammates and opposition well, regardless of nationality.

A notable example of seeing the influence of a high profile athlete transcending nationalities can be found in Peter Schmeichel’s recounting of Gordon Banks’ save against Pele in the 1970 World Cup. The Brit’s performance (a decade before the Danish goalkeeper started as a professional) inspired Schmeichel to play at a higher level, even later recreating his own take on the save. This sort of standard is why goalkeepers like Pat Onstad, Jaime Penedo, and Jorge Campos are important to the American landscape. It’s a tangible goal players (current and young) to aspire towards.

The average age of a professional American goalkeeper has dropped from 29 (2010) to 25.77 (2015) and currently sits at 25.83 (2019).

The average age of a professional American goalkeeper has dropped from 29 (2010) to 25.77 (2015) and currently sits at 25.83 (2019).

2. Professional American goalkeepers are getting younger - The big reason why the average age has dipped is because USL teams - not MLS - are taking more chances on the recent college graduates. MLS is notorious for struggling to play youngsters, only recently empowering their U23 players. Yet the USL has been increasingly kind to young players and are the main reason for why 35.6% of the counted goalkeepers land in the 22-25 age range.

The trend is now bleeding into the 18-21 age bracket, with five college-aged Americans earning ten league starts in 2018. Ten goalkeepers are currently on track to double last year’s numbers. It’s hard to see where the ceiling is for U20 goalkeepers getting time but for now American goalkeepers are getting younger by the minute.

3. Late teenagers are opting out of college - Los Angeles Galaxy’s USL side paved the way for USL teams knowing how to place responsibility on a young goalkeeper’s shoulders. Originally leaning on early-to-mid 20 year olds like Brian Rowe, Brian Perk and Celement Diop, Galaxy reset their course and immediately invested in Eric Lopez, giving the 17-year-old a dozen starts in 2017, the most for any goalkeeper on the roster. They doubled down on their commitment to young goalkeepers by bringing in Justin vom Steeg and Abraham Romero.

Since then, Abraham Rodriguez (16, Colorado Springs), Aaron Cervantes (17, Orange County), David Ochoa (17, Real Monarchs), Luca Mancuso (17, Orlando B), and Max Trejo (17, Swope Park Rangers) have all earned a start in USL action just one month into the season. Perhaps most notably, two of these five goalkeepers aren’t MLS affiliates, meaning teams that aren’t a direct feeder into an MLS side are starting to invest in young players as well. It’s an unheard time in American goalkeeping and one that will start to undo the fractured goalkeeping environment that’s plagued player development for the past two decades.

Where do we go from here?

It’s been a painfully slow progress to get to this point but the last few years have seen doors open in ways that didn’t exist before. Ultimately if MLS teams want to continue to flip future Zack Steffens for $8-to-10 million dollars, they need to continue to flesh out player development for 18-23 year olds. If the NCAA continues to show no interest in adapting to the modern game and best serve the student-athlete, the responsibility falls on the USL to help bridge the gap for aspiring players to reach their potential. A few years ago, signing with a USL side for $8,000 only to sit the bench was less than a desirable option, but with promising roads being paved to MLS and perhaps beyond, don’t be surprised to see even more young players jump straight to the pro game as soon as possible.