Skip to content

Quality backup goalkeepers: extravagance or necessity?

Apr 12, 2012, 5:10 PM EDT

Paolo Tornaghi

Is a high-quality backup goalkeeper an extravagance in Major League Soccer?

Most of us may discuss and debate this leisurely, over cold ones with friends while trying desperately to remember that adorable server’s name. It’s just a hypothetical for us.

But for MLS decision makers this is a significant, real-world choice – with possible employment consequences. And them’s big consequences.

Toronto FC has a choice to make once Stefan Frei returns from a broken leg. Word comes that the choice may already have been made, as The Sun out of Canada says Aron Winter and crew were looking to move Frei, who was expendable because Milos Kocic developed apace and held steady in starting assignments.

Toronto, like so many other sides, has real needs around the field. So, can they afford to keep a potential starter on the bench when other needs are pressing? Making the right call could mean the difference in playoffs or no playoffs – and job or no job.

The five teams that may have such a “luxury,” if you consider it so:

Toronto FC – Kocic was in goal for the side’s one shining moment in 2012, the massive march win at Los Angeles. He’s been strong enough since then, which is why Frei may be on the outs.

Columbus – It’s getting harder to remember a time when William Hesmer wasn’t the No. 1 around Crew Stadium. But Andy Gruenebaum has never disappointed when forced by injury into duty. Gruenebaum is 29, hardly old for a goalkeeper. Kevin Hartman, 37, remains one of the league’s best, and Kasey Keller just hung ‘em up at 41. So Gruenebaum has time to latch onto a starting assignment somewhere.

D.C. United – This is a little out of nowhere, because the sample for second-year man Joe Willis remains tiny (just four matches this year, after three last year). But the 23-year-old sure looks up for a starting job somewhere. Would United consider making a move considering they have two promising ‘keeper prospects in Willis and U.S. under-23 Bill Hamid? (Not to mention young Andrew Dykstra, formerly a starter in Chicago.)

Chicago Fire – Everyone assumed the No. 1 shirt at Toyota Park was solid property of Sean Johnson, a quality up-and-comer who already has time with the U.S. national team, plus 41 career starts for the Fire. But along comes Paolo Tornaghi (pictured) – and the young Italian isn’t bad at all. Johnson is back from his time with the Olympic team, but it looks like Tornaghi is Frank Klopas’ man for now.

New England – Matt Reis has been the trusty incumbent for so long around Gillette Stadium, there has never been much need to discuss importing a young buck to push competition. For the last couple of years Bobby Shuttleworth has been backup, and a Shuttleworth appearance has generally not meant any significant dropoff in goal guarding quality. You wonder how many teams might be happy with Shuttleworth, 24, as a starter?

Latest Posts
  1. MLS Snapshot: New York Red Bulls 3-0 DC United

    Aug 30, 2015, 9:15 PM EDT

    Bradley Wright-Phillips, New York Red Bulls AP

    A complete performance from the Red Bulls, who will finish the season unbeaten against their Atlantic Cup rivals.

  2. Done Deals: De Bruyne joins Manchester City in busy day for Wolfsburg

    Aug 30, 2015, 8:05 PM EDT

    FBL-ENG-GER-ARSENAL-WOLFSBURG-FRIENDLY Getty Images

    Find out what moves have been completed with the transfer deadline approaching, as Wolfsburg made three big deals today.

  3. MLS Snapshot: Seattle Sounders 2-1 Portland Timbers

    Aug 30, 2015, 7:04 PM EDT

    cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznpwiwy2q3odk1zwm3ownizgywzdkyota2nwzhymvkmgrl AP

    More than 64,000 supporters packed CenturyLink Field as the Sounders downed the Timbers in a Cascadia Cup clash.

  4. La Liga & Serie A roundup: Madrid clubs cruise; Juve loses again

    Aug 30, 2015, 6:20 PM EDT

    Karim Benzema AP

    Catch up on all of this weekend’s action from Spain and Italy’s top flights.

  5. Bayern Munich signs teen sensation Kingsley Coman from Juventus

    Aug 30, 2015, 5:30 PM EDT

    FBL-ITA-SERIEA-FIORENTINA-JUVENTUS Getty Images

    The French winger has played for Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus, and now Bayern Munich. All before his 20th birthday.

  6. USMNT releases 23-man roster for September friendlies

    Aug 30, 2015, 4:38 PM EDT

    Howard AP

    Tim Howard and Geoff Cameron are back in the squad, while the relatively unknown Andrew Wooten gets his first call-up.

  7. VIDEO: Garry Monk’s tactical changes led to win over Manchester United

    Aug 30, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT

    Newcastle United v Swansea City - Premier League Getty Images

    In a managerial battle between the young Garry Monk and the veteran Louis van Gaal, the kid came out on top.

  8. Roma beats Juventus 2-1 as defending champs drop second straight

    Aug 30, 2015, 3:05 PM EDT

    cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznptqwogu2mgu2njgznjflnjbhmtyyota3mdazymzkyjvm AP

    After losing three matches all of last season, Juventus has now lost their first two games of the new campaign.

  9. VIDEO: Louis van Gaal laments being “too dominant” in loss to Swansea City

    Aug 30, 2015, 2:08 PM EDT

    VanGaal Getty Images

    The Manchester United manager believed his club got so comfortable on the ball that they lost their focus.

  10. Saint-Etienne striker Bahebeck hospitalized after breathing troubles

    Aug 30, 2015, 1:38 PM EDT

    Bahebeck Getty Images

    Reports indicate the Saint-Etienne medical staff was initially afraid that the young striker had suffered a heart attack, but it appears the issues are just heat related.

  11. Swansea City 2-1 Manchester United: Swans comeback stuns Red Devils

    Aug 30, 2015, 12:51 PM EDT

    Gomis Getty Images

    The Red Devils thought they’d picked up points at the Liberty Stadium, but Bafetimbi Gomis had other ideas.

  12. Sunday Transfer Rumor Roundup: Draxler to Wolfsburg, Wanyama to leave Saints

    Aug 30, 2015, 11:48 AM EDT

    Draxler Getty Images

    Juventus was in for the Schalke winger, but Wolfsburg now need a replacement for Kevin de Bruyne.

  13. Manchester City officially signs Kevin de Bruyne

    Aug 30, 2015, 11:12 AM EDT

    DeBruyne Getty Images

    Wolfsburg tried its darndest, but Kevin de Bruyne still decided to leave in favor of a crowded Manchester City squad.

  14. Watch Live: Swansea City vs Manchester United (Lineups and Live Stream)

    Aug 30, 2015, 10:42 AM EDT

    cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznptfly2fjmgq3njvimzkxyze4mmmxowe2zwziyzg0mwvi AP

    Manchester United has started the season strong, but they take on a team that beat them twice last season.

  15. Southampton 3-0 Norwich City: Saints swarm 10-man Norwich for season’s first win

    Aug 30, 2015, 10:22 AM EDT

    Pelle Getty Images

    Graziano Pelle grabbed the opener and Dusan Tadic finished it off with a brace as Southampton flew to its first win of the year.

  16. Victor Valdes to trudge on at Manchester United after Besiktas move falls apart

    Aug 30, 2015, 9:29 AM EDT

    Valdes Getty Images

    Could Valdes be forced to stay with Manchester United despite his obvious wish to leave?

  17. Australian striker scores eight goals in A-League preseason match

    Aug 30, 2015, 8:46 AM EDT

    Maclaren Getty Images

    Oh the season hasn’t started yet? Jamie Maclaren wasn’t aware.

  18. Watch Live: Southampton vs Norwich City (Lineups and Live Stream)

    Aug 30, 2015, 7:50 AM EDT

    Koeman Getty Images

    Ronald Koeman must pick up a win fast or risk seeing Southampton in a serious early season hole.

  19. Montreal’s Frank Klopas becomes first MLS head coach fired this season

    Aug 30, 2015, 7:30 AM EDT

    Klopas Getty Images

    A single coach had yet to be fired as we approach the start of September, but that changed as Montreal made a change.

  20. MLS Snapshot: FC Dallas 2-0 Real Salt Lake (video)

    Aug 29, 2015, 11:37 PM EDT

    Fabian Castillo, FC Dallas Fabian Castillo, FC Dallas

    The playoffs look a might big ask of RSL, as they sit rock bottom, 10th place, in the Western Conference.

Featured video

Highlights: Swansea's win vs. Man United