Who is the best goalkeeper (GK) in MLS? It is the subject of a lot of argument amongst fans in large part due to a lack of understanding of the subtleties of the position.
Why should you listen to me for the scouting of MLS GKs? If you need me to appeal to authority, here are some of my credentials: I have been a GK nearly my entire life, played in the PASL Premier league (semi-pro, indoor league) as a GK and have been working with FC Denver for the last 7 years as a GK, coach, and GM. I have also been scouting for the last 5 years and recently began working with the video game Football Manager as a research scout. While all GKs are different, I am a student of the game of football/soccer and the position itself.
Rather than judging them on frequently misinterpreted statistical categories like GAA, Clean Sheets, and saves, which can often be skewed by events beyond a GK’s control, I assigned them a rank based on their actual abilities in the following ten categories:
Aerial ability, command of box, how well they communicate, how well they control the ball using hands, how well they control the ball with feet, 1v1 situations, passing ability (how good is he at actually passing the ball), reflex saves, decision making in the box (whether to punch, catch, charging, etc.), and distribution. With each category, the player will be assessed 1-10 (with 10 being the best. Since this is 1-10, I rounded up to the nearest whole). In the event of tie between individuals, I went through their weaknesses and ranked them based on which I felt were better overall in the position.
Here are the results of my assessment after hours of watching footage of each of these GKs. I want to stress the point that all GKs are different, but this is my take on the ten best in MLS:
1. Nick Rimando - 70
Rimando over-sells dives, at times; rarely to a fault, but he does make some mundane saves look incredible, which can be very entertaining to watch. Rimando is one of the best GKs in the world when it comes to control with his feet and his distribution. He plays the position almost like an outfield player, but has the great skill in the net, as well.
2. Bill Hamid - 64
Bill Hamid is an astounding ‘keeper, at times. He does have a tendency to spread his legs too wide while preparing for the shot, which can hinder his propulsion from a standing position. He leaps slightly off of the ground and spreads his legs abnormally wide. This does not cause a massive issue for Bill, due to his leg strength, but can slow the reaction time slightly, and in GK, the smallest details can mean all the difference.
3. David Ousted - 63
David Ousted puts himself out of position when the opposing player drags the ball near the end line, which creates and angle for the goal scorer, once he cuts back inside – see Piatti’s second goal this past weekend for reference. Ousted also takes a rather large “ski position” (arms thrust back prior to movement to gain momentum forward), at times, which can delay his diving to either side, but he does this more consistently to his right.
4. Luis Robles - 62
Luis Robles is a fantastic GK. He used to have his moments of non-committal behavior (avoiding contact on some plays in traffic), which I criticized early in his time with Red Bull. He has since become one of my favorite GKs to watch in MLS. He reminds me, at times, of Iker Casillas in his movement and ability to parry the ball – nearly cat-like.
5. Adam Kwarasey - 62
In watching Adam, it was difficult to find overt flaws in his game. He is very similar to Bill Hamid in his athleticism; he can cover both upper-90 corners, because his footwork is adroit; he gets low quickly by utilizing his legs really well -- he seems to know when to “sweep” his legs (usually deployed when the ball is within arm distance, so a dive is not necessary, but just far enough to force a GK to leave his feet to stretch) and is also good at using his “power step” to set up his dive. I did notice in the film I saw, that he commits to the left more often than the right when a player is 1v1. The key to this is that he seems to commit prior to the player with the ball, which can often lead to GK falling for fake shots.
6. Tyler Deric - 62
Tyler is a younger GK at 27 than most being scouted. I think he is a sound GK. My only issue with Tyler is that his hands are not the strongest. Often, when a strike comes in with power, he will make the save more often than not, but his hands nearly give way to let the ball squeak in. The ball will stay in play a lot against Tyler Deric, because of his weaker hands and this could lead to a large number of rebound opportunities. He is not as athletic as Bill Hamid or Kwarasey, but he has good range and is effective in close-range shots, as well. He is not polished in his movement or his decision making, but he is skilled in his ability to save shots.
7. Sean Johnson - 61
Sean Johnson fell much farther than I thought he would in my ranking. After watching him, I couldn’t help, but see that he does not power off of his ball-side leg all that well. Whether right or left, when he is about to spring into a dive, he barely loads up his leg at all. If this did not seem to affect his dive at all, the form wouldn’t matter as much. However, this lack of power appears to keep him from exploding where he needs to go. The great part about Sean is he is amazing at nearly everything else. His wingspan makes up for the lack of explosiveness. He is not particularly adept at distributing the ball, but he is good enough that it is not a great weakness in his game; it is just not a strength, either. If he were to improve his explosiveness in his plant leg, he could be great.
8. David Bingham - 61
David Bingham is an up-and-coming name in MLS. He has established himself at the number 1 role in San Jose, and for good reason. He is a solid choice as a GK. Not a super-flashy GK, but athletic enough to make an acrobatic save to keep out a sure-fire goal. His movement is not as solid as I would like. He can be seen to have a clunky nature about his footwork. One thing I noticed about David is that he switches off very easily/quickly when the ball is in the final third. For instance, when the opposition has the ball and shoots toward goal and his team blocks and recovers possession, he has a tendency to become flat-footed or disengaged. While this is something that can be resolved pretty easily, I feel it is a serious flaw. At 26, he may lack polish, but he is definitely one to keep an eye on in the very near future.
9. Stefan Frei - 60
Stefan Frei comes up big for his team frequently, but after watching him, he often struggles diving to his right. His footwork seems normal, but he has a tendency to tuck his right elbow into his ribs, which can be dangerous in landing. Has he been injured on his right shoulder that would hinder his movement that way? I am not sure. In my footage, I noticed him struggling that way. He confirmed this idea further this past weekend when the ball was struck from the outside the 18 and he allowed it to pass him untouched. That’s not to say he is a bad GK, he’s not. He just has an area of improvement that I feel was easily recognized.
10. Steve Clark – 57
Steve Clark rounds off this top-ten countdown. Steve is a GK that I think is very good, but has key components to his game that are weak. The first key component is his distribution/passing decisions with the ball at his feet. At times, he makes poor decisions with the ball, and sometimes, even makes good decisions, but executes them poorly. For example, the MLS Cup final. This was an obvious mistake, but that was one of several that I noticed in my time watching Steve. He has had numerous mistaken passes that went to the other team and led to goals. One other gripe I had about his game was how he performs his upper dives. He will often dive low only to try to reach upward making a “U dive” with his body shape. This is poor form and could be easily exploited by placing the ball in high spots, specifically in situations when he hasn’t had time to reset his feet. That said, Steve is very good at almost everything else.
I have tried to make this as least subjective as possible. There will always be differing opinions on the way to play this position and succeed. Hopefully, this gives you some insight into the position’s nuances and can help you see the position differently.