The list looks like one of the t-shirts: Tony + Casey + Brad + Tim. From Tony Meola to Casey Keller to Brad Friedel to Tim Howard, the U.S. men's national team has spent 20 years with some of the net's aces. (The fashion-forward version of the shirt features Jurgen Sommer, who played in England's First Division and won 10 caps and two World Cup spots for the United States from 1994 to 1998, and former Reading star Also includes Jürgen + Marcus, after Marcus Hahnemann.)
Regardless of the quality or depth of the 10 outfield players, no one has ever known the USMNT for as long as the majority of American fans can remember as having a quality goaltender to clean up the mess. knew. Performances include Keller single-handedly stopping Brazil's onslaught at the 1998 Gold Cup, Friedel's heroics at the 2002 World Cup, and Howard's 16 saves against Belgium at the 2014 World Cup. Sometimes it even became a legend. But beyond the heroics, the netminder's consistency was key.
For 20 years, one of, if not the USMNT's best player, who achieved success as a goalkeeper for both his country and his club. But what about now? Hmm.
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the situation is not Miserable. USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter has options open for Matt Turner, Zach Steffen, Ethan Horvath, Shawn Johnson and several players to come. Turner, whose wild, wonderfully strange path to the English Premier League is a true American soccer success story, played well between the posts during the 2022 World Cup. He has been a near-constant No. 1 since taking over for the U.S., but the recent debacle against Trinidad and Tobago was more of an outlier than the norm.
But still, goaltending is now a relative weakness, an unusual position for the United States, which hasn't cared about it for years. These days, America's top goaltenders either don't start or are forced to move to lower clubs or easier leagues in search of playing time.
This perception of weakness reflects past successes and realities. When asked by ESPN about his past heroes, Pittsburgh Riverhounds goaltending coach John Bush summed it up this way:
Keller, who played in goal during the USMNT's golden era, agrees.
“It's almost impossible to explain what the situation was for goaltending in U.S. soccer in the 1990s and 2000s,” Keller told ESPN by phone. “At one point there were four starting goalkeepers in the Premier League, which was 20 per cent of the league. It became the norm and the Premier League always had two or three starting goalkeepers. There was an expectation that it would. But it's unrealistic to expect that to continue.”
He added: “When you're successful in a position that draws attention to other players in the country, people say, 'Well, if Casey can do it, great. Brad can do it, too. If Brad can do it, so be it.' I'll think about it,” he added. Maybe Marcus can do it, but what about this young American? ” So they brought in Tim. You have this conveyor belt. ”
Meola, Keller, Friedel, and Hahnemann were all born between February 1969 and June 1972. This is a golden generation of goaltenders and an unsustainable level of success.However, the performance in America Really It fell off.
Turner, regarded as the number one player on the US national team, left Arsenal after making just seven competitive appearances and had a number of ups and downs since joining Nottingham Forest. Of all 34 Premier League goalkeepers to have played this season, Turner ranks 23rd in goals prevented (an advanced statistic that compares expected goals on target and goals conceded) with -0.19 per 90 minutes. . There is one small sign of hope. Odyseas Vracodimos, who is vying for a starting spot in front of Turner's goal at Forest, is even worse, with -0.83 per 90 goals conceded, well low for 32nd in the league. As a result, Turner was able to regain his starting spot at Forest.
Nevertheless, Turner's numbers are a far cry from what he accomplished in the New England Revolution — plus-0.20 ERA per 90 points in the past two full seasons in Major League Soccer (2021) and plus-0.37 (2020). ) — even in a much more difficult league.
Per ESPN Stats & Information, Horvath was a consistently positive goalkeeper in his early years, but in the 2022-2023 season with Luton Town, his ERA per 90 points slumped to -0.03. He has not played since returning to Forest and has not been on the bench since early September. Steffen barely played between 2020 and 2022, but he started 42 games for Middlesbrough last season and posted a disappointing -0.05 average per 90 goals conceded. He's played so little that it's hard to know where the former Columbus Crew stalwart is, both mentally and physically.
Beyond those three, Drake Callender, Roman Celentano and Patrick Schulte have all had solid performances in MLS, but that level of competition may be their limit. Gaga Slonina, 19, Chris Brady, 19, and Diego Kochen, 17, represent the next generation of talent and potential, but they are teenagers with less than 100 first-team appearances under their belts. This is a trio. .
“I think the current pecking order is Matt Turner and then Greg.” [Berhalter] I think it's the next thing,” Tony Meola told ESPN. We had never really experienced that in the goalie position. ”
One question is whether this moment of positional instability is an aberration or a symbol of a more systemic problem. The answer, as always, is a little bit of both. The goalie position is undergoing a transformation, and the traditional athleticism that Americans bring is no longer enough.
“The role of a goalkeeper has changed a lot,” said former MLS goalkeeper Joe Cannon. “In the last 10 or 15 years, we've started to see goaltenders who can play with their feet. This 'Brazilian goaltender' is in some ways similar to the athleticism of the American goaltenders we see. It's a combination. There's a little more nuance. , be a little more calm with the ball. ”
Perhaps Turner is an above-average shot-stopper; below average passer.
But it's also a matter of the person in charge. Keller said he, Friedel and Hahnemann traveled all over England, starting and winning the Second Division Championship before their successful run in the Premier League.
“It's not easy to be thrown into a Premier League team and think you can be a successful starter just because of your MLS experience,” Keller said. “It's not going to be that big of a jump, I just think it's going to be smooth. Matt has 20 games of experience in the top leagues in Europe, but he hasn't played 200 games in the top leagues. We'll react to the situation. I don't have the strength.'' Experience. “
The biggest problem for all goalies is playing time. Fight until you get to the net and stay there. In that regard, Turner's return to the Forest cage is a positive sign, and Steffen's move to Colorado should open up opportunities. Horvath needs to calm things down and Chelsea, who paid a fortune for Slonina, have an interest in the young goalkeeper who continues to receive playing time on loan. The Copa America is this summer, and the 2026 World Cup isn't far away.
“They're all going to be at the peak of their careers looking ahead to their home World Cup,” said Aaron Hyde, Charlotte FC's head of goalkeeping and former U.S. goalkeeping coach. “There could be no greater motivation for any of them to really put themselves in a position to play well heading into 2026.”
Despite the recent volatility, a smart bettor will sort out the U.S. goaltending situation. There are too many successes to overlook.
“It's going to take two and two-and-a-half years to get this thing moving in the right direction,” Meola said. “Hopefully by 2026 Greg will have five goalkeepers to choose from. That wouldn't be a bad problem for us.”
Matt + Zack + Ethan + Drake + Gaga, anyone? And let's not forget the possibility of Roman + Patrick + Chris + Diego.