With the 2014 MLS season coming to an end, it’s hard to deny this year has seen some of the best goalkeeping in the history of soccer in North America. The USA has always been blessed with some extremely talented goalkeepers over the years, and the signs are extremely positive that the incoming wave of goalies could be even better than those that have gone before them. One of the best keepers this year has undoubtedly been D.C. United’s Bill Hamid – who has played a huge role in the Red and Black’s sensational season and further enhanced his case as one of the league’s most exciting young stoppers.
While current USMNT number-one Tim Howard continues to shine for Everton in the English Premier League, his long-time heir-apparent is coming off the back of a season in which his performances earned him a recall into the national squad. DCU have the joint-best defence in the Eastern Conference – conceding just 34 goals in 29 games this season – with Hamid starting 25 of those regular season games, keeping eight clean sheets in the process and putting himself back in the minds of soccer fans after a tough couple of years.
The youngster’s reflexes, shot-stopping ability and technique are right up there with the best in the country at the moment, and while his handling can sometimes let him down, he has the mental strength to make up for any mistakes he may make. With over 100 appearances for D.C. United, Hamid boasts plenty of experience despite being just 23-years old, and the goalkeeper has been crucial to a season in which DCU have surprised many en-route to the top of the Eastern Conference. Whether or not United can go all the way remains to be seen, but it wouldn’t be too bold to assume the presence of Hamid in goal will be key to any success the club enjoy between now and the end of the playoffs.
But while Hamid has been one of the league’s best keepers this season, he has by no means been the only goalkeeper in the MLS to garner the plaudits throughout the year, and here’s our list of the best of the rest. So while the MLS may still have some way to go before being able to compete with Europe in terms of quality, it’s hard to argue that the Major League doesn’t have some world class goalkeepers competing in it and players who could one day become stars over in the European leagues.
Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
A familiar face with D.C. United fans, Nick Rimando has once again been one of the MLS’s best goalkeepers this season. At 35 years of age, the former United stopper has been a reliable and consistent presence in Major League Soccer for over a decade, and Rimando shows no sign of slowing down yet. Already the all-time league leader in clean sheets, Rimando has again been a key part of Real Salt Lake’s success this year, producing 60 saves from 84 shots during 21 appearances this season.
His appearance in the US squad for last summer’s World Cup in Brazil restricted Rimando from improving those figures, but his recall to the national squad was evidence of just how consistent the veteran has been in recent years. Without the height or physical attributes of a lot of young keepers in the league, Rimando makes up for his stocky build with remarkable agility and a command presence in the area that is essential. He may not be a United player anymore, but DCU fans will always have a soft spot for the likeable Rimando, although perhaps not when Real Salt Lake head to the capital.
Jon Busch (San Jose Earthquakes)
At just 5’10”, Jon Busch is far from the typical goalkeeper, but that hasn’t stopped the American from establishing himself as one of the MLS’s most consistent keepers over the past decade. What the veteran lacks in height, he more than makes up for with his incredible leap and handling, and the Earthquakes supporters have grown used to seeing their compact keeper bail their team out of trouble with his Jordan-esque leaps and his breath-taking reflexes, which are all the more impressive when considering Busch is nearing his 40th birthday.
No other keeper in the MLS has faced more shots than Busch’s 159, and it’s testament to the Earthquakes stopper that he finds himself at the top of the league rankings, with 114 saves to his name. Without Busch in goal, it’s anyone’s guess where the Earthquakes would be in the standings. While San Jose won’t be in the play-offs this season, it isn’t any reflection on their goalkeeper and the club will be confident of bouncing back next year with Busch between the sticks. At 38-years-old, you could be forgiven for thinking Busch is winding his career down, but the fact is that the veteran appears to be improving with age and still looks more than capable of going on for another five years.
Jaime Penedo (L.A. Galaxy)
Coming to the end of his first season for the Galaxy, Jaime Penedo has wasted little time in establishing himself as one of the league’s best goalkeepers this year. After a career spent mostly in Europe, Penedo has become a firm fans favourite with the Galaxy faithful for his colourful and impressive performances during his debut season. From his ability in the air, his distribution, speed and shot-stopping, Penedo has everything a top goalkeeper needs. Combine his physical attributes with his experience and intelligence, Penedo has been one of the Galaxy’s most important signings in recent years.
The Panama international has made 70 saves from 98 shots this season, and that’s been a key factor in the Galaxy’s battle for the Supporters’ Shield. Penedo may like to take the occasional risk, but very rarely leading to a goal and the goalkeeper’s performances has been a consistent and reliable last line of defence for the club. While the Galaxy’s attacking players will often take the majority of the headlines, this season would have looked a lot different had Penedo not been in the side and the goalkeeper has provided a solid platform on which the team has been able to build.
Luis Robles (New York Red Bulls)
After spending his early-career playing in Europe, Luis Robles has been one of the New York Red Bulls most important signings in recent years. The 30-year-old has at times single-handily kept the Red Bulls play-off hopes alive this season – making 98 saves from 150 shots this year – second only to San Jose’s Jon Busch. Playing behind one of the MLS’s weakest defences, Robles fast became a firm fans favourite with the New York faithful after helping the team win the Supporters’ Shield last season.
The American only joined the Red Bulls in late 2012 but has already put together a strong case to be classed as one of the franchise’s best keepers in recent years. Blessed with incredible reflexes and solid physical attributes, Robles has certainly done his case for a re-call to the USMNT no harm this season and the national team management will have taken notice of the Red Bulls keeper. With one of the league’s most prolific forward lines, strengthening the defence and giving their overworked keeper some cover could see this New York side become genuine contenders next year. Another season like the last one and it would be hard for USA boss Klinsmann to continue to ignore Robles.
Stefan Frei (Seattle Sounders)
While the Seattle Sounders have gained many fans for their exciting style of play this season, their defence has left plenty to be desired. The fact the club find themselves at the top of the MLS ladder is testament to the performances of Swiss goalkeeper Stefan Frei this year. While the 28-year-old has seen 41 goals fly past him throughout the regular season, Frei has been responsible for stopping an awful lot more with some incredible saves at times when the Sounders have really needed their keeper.
After initially making his name in Toronto, a string of injuries resulted in Frei being allowed to leave Canada and sign for Seattle at the beginning of the year. The all-round package, Frei doesn’t have any noticeable weaknesses to his game, and it’s no surprise to see the Swiss stopper among the top performing keepers this season. As the Sounders prepare for the playoffs, they will be well aware of the importance their goalkeeper will play in Seattle’s title hopes.
Bobby Shuttleworth (New England Revolution)
As long as the New England Revolution qualify for the playoffs, there will be a good few backing the franchise to go all the way, and the presence of Bobby Shuttleworth in goal has a lot to do with that. Marshalling an organised defence that has conceded just 34 goals this season, this Revolution side have everything needed to challenge for the championship this term. As well as their solid defence, New England have a creative and hard-working midfield feeding a prolific frontline, and this team will be a match for anybody between now and the end of the season.
Things haven’t come easy for Shuttleworth and the goalkeeper had to earn his stripes in the lower leagues before being given a chance by New England in the MLS. The 27-year-old has taken his opportunity and can now class himself somewhat unfortunate to have not been called-up to the national team. With 75 saves to his name this season, Shuttleworth’s main attribute comes from his ability to organise his defence and go about his business without any fuss. While some may overlook the keeper’s work, the Revolution will be well aware of the role Shuttleworth has played this season.
The 27-year-old will have his attentions firmly on New England’s Eastern Conference crunch match with Kansas City on Friday evening, with Shuttleworth’s side considered the underdogs to emerge victorious. A win could see New England close the gap on Kansas City’s three point advantage and they may well upset the odds, considering they have lost just three games so far this season.
Zac MacMath (Philadelphia Union)
Despite the presence of two rival top-class goalkeepers in the Philadelphia Union squad, Zac MacMath has proven just how much the club think of him by starting 26 of the 29 appearances this season. While Rais M’Bolhi starred for Algeria during last summer’s World Cup in Brazil before his arrival, Andre Blake was selected as the first overall pick in this year’s MLS SuperDraft, yet MacMath has held onto the number-one jersey throughout the season – one of few constants in what has been a turbulent campaign for the Union.
While Philadelphia have been through two different coaches this season, both with separate ideas and tactics, MacMath has shone throughout the season for the Union and this could have been a much worse campaign hadn’t their keeper been such a reliable part of the defence. MacMath’s 73 saves from 115 shots with 39 goals conceded highlights his importance to the team, and the speed of improvement the 23-year-old has shown this year could make it hard for either of his rivals to oust him from between the sticks.
Joe Bendik (Toronto FC)
After losing his place to Brazil international Julio Cesar, Joe Bendik has wasted little chance in re-establishing himself as the club’s number-one goalkeeper following his rival’s departure. The former Portland Timbers stopper had been a solid enough keeper during his debut season in Canada before the arrival of Cesar at the beginning of the year, and Bendik has made it his mission to prove he should never have been sacrificed in order to accommodate the Brazilian.
In his 21 starts this season, Bendik has made 63 saves from 96 shots, conceding just 34 goals in the process and producing a string of impressive displays. While the 25-year-old has a tendency to stay on his line, Bendik can make up for that with his shot-stopping. On more than one occasion this season Bendik has bailed Toronto out of trouble and proven he is the man to take this number-one jersey into the next part of the club’s history. While the likes of Jermain Defoe have often taken the headlines this season, Toronto fans won’t have overlooked the role Bendik has played.