Can MLS produce the next great US goalkeeper?

by Neil Sherwin

With the dust settled on the World Cup, and specifically the United States’ encouraging campaign, the focus will soon turn to building for the next tournament in four years’ time.

With a number of the 23-man squad unlikely to be involved in the qualifying campaign for Russia 2018, Coach Jurgen Klinsmann can begin to line up some successors, and one of the positions that will need addressing is between the posts.

New national hero Tim Howard had an excellent World Cup, performing particularly well in the last 16 with a record amount of saves against Belgium, but, at 35, he won’t be around forever.

Howard stated back in April that he plans to retire when his current Everton deals runs out in 2018. While he is yet to make an announcement about his international future and could still be in the mix come Russia in four years, he is unlikely to hit the heights of his exploits in Brazil.

Waiting in the wings should Howard call it a day is Aston Villa’s Brad Guzan who has come on leaps and bounds over the past year or two following regular game time in the Premier League. The 29-year-old has only 25 caps to his name due to Howard’s dominance but is the obvious heir to the throne.

The third choice US keeper in Brazil was Nick Rimando who is the same age as Howard so he is also unlikely to be an option come 2018.

The US has a great tradition of producing excellent goalkeepers, including the likes of Kasey Keller, Brad Friedel, Marcus Hahnemann, and Tony Meola to name just a few, and the standard continues to improve year on year in Major League Soccer.

Here’s a look at four goalkeepers from the domestic league, all 25 or under, who could be involved with the national team over the next few years.

Bill Hamid – DC United

A miserable 2013 season saw DC United finish bottom of the combined Supporters’ Shield Standings, a massive ten points behind Chivas USA, the team directly above them.

Some shrewd offseason recruiting however has seen their fortunes turn around in a massive way and they currently lead the Eastern Conference.

One of the big contributors to that shift in form is 23-year-old Bill Hamid, a highly rated young goalkeeper who has been DC’s first choice since 2011. At 19, he became the youngest goalkeeper to win a game in MLS and since then has been learning on the job for a club that has struggled.

Hamid’s persistence is now being rewarded though with only the Seattle Sounders boasting more points at this stage of the season, and he has kept a very credible four clean sheets in his 14 appearances so far.

A non-playing member of the squad that won the CONCACAF Gold Cup last year, Hamid has one full cap to his name thanks to an appearance against Venezuela in January 2012 and he should get an opportunity to add to that in the very near future.

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Sean Johnson – Chicago Fire

The Chicago Fire have become known as Major League Soccer’s draw specialists, with 10 of their 17 games so far ending level.

However, they would have lost a number of those were it not for the performances of 25-year-old goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

In their most recent outing, the Fire claimed an impressive 1-0 win away to the New England Revolution, thanks in large part to Johnson who pulled off a big penalty save to deny Chris Tierney an equaliser in the 84th minute.

Johnson is known as “The Milkman” in Chicago because he always delivers, though a chat with Fire Coach Frank Yallop has made him push that little bit more in 2014.

“Sean’s been good for us all year,” says Yallop. “We’ve seen over the years how good he can be and maybe just a small push was needed to go up another level. He’s responded well and been fantastic since we’ve come back.”

At international level, Johnson has been capped four times and kept a clean sheet in the 1-0 victory over Costa Rica in the 2013 Gold Cup.

Having spent time training at Manchester United, Everton and Norwich City, a move to Europe seems an inevitability for Johnson at some point but until then he is committed to the cause in Chicago.

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Clint Irwin – Colorado Rapids

Having gone undrafted by MLS teams in 2011, Clint Irwin spent time honing his skills in the third-tier of US soccer with the Charlotte Eagles, as well as Capital City of the Canadian Soccer League.

The 25-year-old finally got his big break when he was offered a trial by the Colorado Rapids and initially signed on with a view to being the team’s third choice goalkeeper.

However, injuries thrust Irwin into the spotlight with a debut against Real Salt Lake, and he went on to become only the third goalkeeper in MLS history to keep five clean sheets in his first ten starts.

In 2013, Irwin kept ten clean sheets overall, equalling the club record set by Joe Cannon in 2004, and he was named as the Rapids Fan Favourite in their end of season awards.

Like Sean Johnson, Irwin spent some time training with Everton and Tim Howard, and signed an extension to his contract with the Rapids in March of this year.

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Joe Bendik – Toronto FC

Probably the biggest outsider of the four, Joe Bendik’s progress at Toronto FC was stunted by the acquisition of Brazil’s number one goalkeeper Julio Cesar on loan from Queens Park Rangers.

Having started 33 league games out of a possible 34 in 2013, Bendik has so far kept goal just eight times this time round and that run in the team only came because of Cesar’s World Cup duty.

Losing your place to a loanee might get many people down but Bendik met the challenge head on and was happy to learn from such an experienced campaigner.

“Julio needed games and to see him in the World Cup was incredible for the city, for our team and for MLS, and I got the front-row seat on the passenger side,” he says.

“So now, for me, it’s just following up on last year’s season and keeping it going.”

Cesar’s stint at Toronto is unlikely to continue meaning Bendik has his hands on the starting spot once more, and he is keen to keep hold of it.

His MLS career began with the Portland Timbers in 2012 but appearances between the posts were few and far between and a move to a struggling TFC yielded regular game time.

Bendik has been capped by the US at under-17, under-18 and under-20 level to date.

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MLS keeper stats

This article first appeared on the excellent bsports, who provide great statistical analysis. You can also find them on Twitter.

Author Info

Neil Sherwin

Neil Sherwin

Co-editor of BackPageFootball.com and BackPageRugby.com. Writes mostly on Premier League, A-League and MLS with contributions to other sites including TheFootballSack, InBedWithMaradona and Bloomberg's BSports. Has featured on The Guardian's Football Weekly.

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