The top goalkeepers in Major League Soccer are bargains for their clubs. Unlike big-name stars such as David Beckham and Thierry Henry, ‘keepers are not meant to be big draws, and thus most of them in MLS do not cash in on monster contracts. This isn’t to suggest that the North American top-flight doesn’t have its fair share of quality goalkeepers.
In fact, it’s just the opposite.
The United States may never produce a Lionel Messi or a Cristiano Ronaldo, but the US is, on a yearly basis, good for multiple ‘keepers who can feature in any top league in the world. Just ask Tim Howard or Brad Guzan if you don’t believe me.
10. Stefan Frei — Seattle Sounders: $150,000 in 2014
March 2012 was the start of a rough patch for Frei. There were rumors at the time that he could be traded by Toronto FC, and Frei then broke his left leg in a freak accident that occurred while training. He didn’t play in a single league contest for Toronto in 2012, and he started for the club in MLS play just once last year.
Frei, 28 years old as of April 20, 2014, is hoping that he will find a second life for his pro career in Seattle. He has two clean sheets in six appearances for the club thus far this season, and Frei has already been nominated for multiple “Save of the Week” awards. So far, so good for Frei’s career reboot.
9. Raul Fernandez — FC Dallas: $247,500 in 2014
Fernandez is an interesting case to examine, considering the amount of money he is set to make. Both his goals-against average (1.58) and save percentage (68) for 2013 were good, but they also weren’t among the numbers posted by the top goalkeepers in the league last season. When you look at the likes of Luis Robles of the New York Red Bulls and Colorado Rapids starter Clint Irwin, one can’t help but wonder if Dallas couldn’t be getting better production from a less-expensive ‘keeper.
2014 has thus far been unkind to Fernandez, who has been relegated to reserve duty as he attempts to return to full fitness. Meanwhile for Dallas, Chris Seitz has been very good in relief. He has a save percentage of 71 percent, and he has posted a 5-1-1 league record.
8. Julio Cesar — Toronto FC: $202,000 in 2014
Cesar probably wouldn’t have imagined before the 2012-13 English Premier League campaign that he would be playing in MLS at this point of his career. Acquired by big-spending Queens Park Rangers two summers ago, Cesar and his new club got off to an admirable start. QPR fell apart as the season progressed, however, and they were eventually relegated.
Cesar was unable to find a lifeline out of the English second division last summer, and he was ultimately frozen out of the team by manager Harry Redknapp. Currently on loan with TFC, Cesar is, talent-wise, probably the best overall goalkeeper in all of the MLS. He’ll be looking to prove his worth to Brazil ahead of the upcoming World Cup.
7. Tally Hall — Houston Dynamo: $213,500 in 2014
Hall, who had his eyes fixed on Europe when he was drafted by LA Galaxy back in 2007, has never been able to take that next step to get himself to the levels held by the previously mentioned Howard and Guzan. That said, he has proven himself to be a top ‘keeper capable of winning in MLS. He was sixth in total saves last season, and he is a two-time MLS All-Star.
Perhaps most important as far as Hall’s value to his club, is how he performs when summer turns to fall. He holds a franchise record with five career postseason shutouts, and Hall has a playoff goals-against average of 0.91.
6. Dan Kennedy — Chivas USA: $213,416 in 2014
Kennedy could, when all is said and done following the season, go down as the best player in the history of a Chivas USA franchise that is going to be born anew following the 2014 MLS campaign. He is currently signed to remain with the club up through 2016, but it is impossible to know anything for sure about the future of Chivas right now.
His MLS record is lousy, but that says more about the teams Kennedy has played for than it does about how he has performed for the club. Kennedy has made a very nice living for himself while playing on some bad Chivas teams, and you can’t help but wonder what might have been had he forced an exit from the club at any point over the past couple of seasons.
5. Nick Rimando — Real Salt Lake: $235,833 in 2014
Rimando is an ageless wonder, a player who seemingly only gets better as the years go on. The veteran who will turn 35 years old this coming June had one of the best seasons of his career in 2013, and he has thus far shown no signs of slowing down. I see no reason why Rimando wouldn’t be called into the US team for the 2014 World Cup.
Rimando, who has incredible athleticism and reflexes, is a reminder of how life can sometimes be unfair. Listed at 5-foot-9, perhaps generously, Rimando is undersized for the position (Tim Howard is 6-foot-3, while Brad Guzan is 6-foot-4). I have no doubt that he would be making much more money while playing overseas if he were only a few inches taller.
4. Sean Johnson — Chicago Fire: $253,000 in 2014
Johnson can, at times, be a frustrating goalkeeper to watch. He undeniably possesses the physical tools needed to excel for a top-level club, but sometimes seems as if his mind wanders during matches. The truth of the matter is that the 24-year-old should, at this point of his career, be ahead of the likes of Rimando and of others among those considered for national team duty.
He isn’t there yet, and I’m not convinced that he’ll ever get there.
Goalkeepers progress and age differently than do other footballers. The possibility exists that we haven’t yet witnessed Johnson at his absolute best. In all fairness to him, playing behind a better back line wouldn’t hurt his development.
3. David Ousted — Vancouver Whitecaps: $266,156.25 in 2014
Ousted is one of the more under-appreciated players in all of the MLS. In 19 regular season appearances for the Whitecaps, he has kept five clean sheets. His goals-against average is 1.12. That Vancouver didn’t enjoy a postseason run last year cannot be blamed on Ousted.
He is still in the early days of his MLS career, and so one cannot adequately judge if Ousted is truly worth the money that he is being paid. Early returns have mostly been positive regarding the player, and, if his form continues throughout 2014, he could be up for Goalkeeper of the Season come this fall.
2. Troy Perkins — Montreal Impact: $271,833 in 2014
Perkins’ MLS resume speaks for itself. He won Goalkeeper of the Year for his play in 2006, and, after a few years overseas, Perkins returned to the league before the beginning of the 2010 campaign. Following stints with DC United and the Portland Timbers, Perkins joined Montreal via trade in the summer of 2012. He led the league in total saves last year.
Perkins and Montreal have had a difficult start to the current season. Montreal have gone 0-4-3 in their first seven league contests, and Perkins has allowed ten total goals in those contests. Perkins recently admitted that the team’s play has been “alarming.”
1. Donovan Ricketts — Portland Timbers: $260,000 in 2014
Ricketts, who turns 37 years old in June, could start for an MLS team into his 40s if he desires to do so and he remains healthy. He won his second league Goalkeeper of the Year Award in 2013 after he finished the regular season with a goals-against average of 0.97 in 32 appearances. Ricketts has, in 2014, been beaten on only four occasions in five league contests.
If one were to put together an all-time MLS first-choice lineup, Ricketts would have to at least be a consideration for starting goalkeeper. He is a steal at his current price-tag.