The MLS is not exactly known for being among the top leagues in world football, and their pool of players only do so much to refute that claim. However, certain aspects of the league – at least in terms of positions their players play in – have been improving over time; in particular, their pool of goalkeepers. With integration of some form or another into their country’s respective national teams, goalkeepers in the MLS are among the league’s hottest properties.
Six of these top 10 keepers have been called up at least once in their career to the U.S. national team, while two others are regular keepers for their respective countries – one of whom is expected to be the main man between the sticks for Brazil’s national team during the World Cup they’ll be hosting this summer. The MLS has a mixture of established keepers with international experience, as well as younger ones who are still on their way towards making their names familiar to even the most casual MLS viewers.
While there are certain notable omissions among this list of goalkeepers – Raul Fernandez, Dan Kennedy and Jaime Penedo were three who missed the cut for this list – it’s proof that goalkeepers are among the most positionally strong areas of Major League soccer, and these 10 men are some the league’s most shining examples of that.
With teams in Orlando, Miami and a second New York team all expected to join the league in the next few years, the MLS’ goalkeeping pool is bound to get even more crowded depending on who each of those expansion clubs can sign. For now, these 10 men are among the cream of the goalkeeping crop in a league that is still developing and trying to establish itself as more than just a retirement home for overseas players. Here are the top 10 goalkeepers in the MLS right now.
10 Troy Perkins (Montreal Impact)
Montreal hasn’t been off to a good start thus far this season – 0-3-1 in their first four matches – but their keeper is still a dependable asset amidst a roster that didn’t have a great defensive performance last season. Troy Perkins ended the 2013 season with a 1.45 goals against average and eight clean sheets, even though the pressure will be on more now than last year with regards to the Impact’s defense, particularly after Alessandro Nesta’s retirement and a lack of marquee signings for the team unlike their Torontonian rivals. The native of Springfield, Ohio has been capped seven times for the U.S. national side.
9 Bill Hamid (D.C. United)
One of the few goalkeepers on this list consistently in consideration for inclusion on the U.S. national team, 23-year-old Bill Hamid has so far gotten one cap to his name, against Venezuela in January of 2012. However, since he’s the man between the sticks for a weak D.C. United team, Hamid finished last season with a 1.56 goals against average with only two wins, six draws and 17 losses. The native of Annandale, Virginia is still a consistent keeper regardless, and one could imagine what he could do with a stronger defense in front of him game after game.
8 Tally Hall (Houston Dynamo)
Not to be confused with the Michigan-based rock band, this Tally Hall has been a consistently solid presence for the Houston Dynamo ever since he joined the team from Danish side Esbjerg in 2009. The native of Washington State finished last season with nine clean sheets and a 1.21 goals against average, and has started this season off well so far with two clean sheets in his first two games of 2014. A call-up to the U.S. national team in May of last year is reaffirmation of how much of an invaluable – if not necessarily spectacular – asset he is to the Dynamo.
7 Zac MacMath (Philadelphia Union)
At only 22 years of age, Zac MacMath has the potential to be among the MLS’ elite goalkeepers as his career continues. The native of St. Petersburg, Florida and alum of the University of Maryland has had the number one spot between the sticks for the Union locked down since the 2012 season, and has not disappointed: having started in every game for the Union except two the past two seasons, MacMath led the MLS with 12 clean sheets in addition to a 1.29 goals against average. Although he’s got competition in the form of first overall draft pick Andre Blake in the net, MacMath’s perch remains his to fall off of.
6 Jon Busch (San Jose Earthquakes)
One of the more experienced goalkeepers in the MLS right now, Jon Busch remains the number one keeper for the San Jose Earthquakes at age 37. The native of Queens, New York has won the MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Award (2008) and finished last season with nine clean sheets and a 1.24 goals against average for the Quakes, despite the team finishing sixth in the West and failing to qualify for a berth in the playoffs. Although not experienced internationally, Busch has one U.S. national team cap under his belt, when he got a clean sheet against Colombia in 2005.
5 Luis Robles (New York Red Bulls)
A homegrown goalkeeper on this list with experience playing overseas, Luis Robles has established himself as the New York Red Bulls’ number one keeper since joining the club in 2012. Robles finished last season with a 1.21 goals against average with 11 clean sheets on a Red Bulls team that finished as top dogs in the east before falling in the quarterfinals of the playoffs to the Houston Dynamo. Robles previously plied his trade for Kaiserslautern and Karlsruhe in Germany before returning to his home country, and got his first cap in 2009 for the U.S. national team against Haiti in the 2009 Gold Cup.
4 Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire)
With four caps to his name in the U.S. national team’s colours, Chicago Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson will likely be a candidate for the man Jürgen Klinsmann turns to should injury strike to Tim Howard, Brad Guzan or Nick Rimando ahead of the World Cup in Brazil this summer. However, his stats for the Fire last season are not reflective of Johnson’s skill in the net: a 1.39 goals against average and only six clean sheets for a Chicago team that just barely missed the playoffs. The Fire have yet to win a game in the early stages of this season, and Johnson will need to be on top of his game to truly establish himself as a future national team keeper.
3 Donovan Ricketts (Portland Timbers)
The captain of Jamaica’s national team, Portland Timbers goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts is a reliable and experienced MLS keeper having previously played for the Los Angeles Galaxy and the Montreal Impact. Ricketts – who has 100 caps for Jamaica, and is one of only two goalkeepers on this list to have gone to a World Cup – won the MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Award last season with a 0.97 goals against average and 14 clean sheets for a Timbers team that finished first in the West with an appearance in the conference final, where they fell short against Real Salt Lake 5-2 on aggregate.
2 Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
Barring serious injury, expect Real Salt Lake keeper Nick Rimando to be travelling to Brazil this summer as the third-string keeper for Jürgen Klinsmann’s U.S. national team. The native of Montclair, California put up performances last season that certainly justify his place with the national side: a 1.04 goals against average with nine shutouts for a Salt Lake team that finished second in the West and narrowly lost the MLS Cup final on penalties to Sporting Kansas City. Rimando has 13 U.S. national team caps to his name, having been the number one keeper for the Stars and Stripes during their 2013 Gold Cup campaign.
1 Julio Cesar (Toronto FC)
Having been offered an escape route from Queen’s Park Rangers in the Championship this season, Julio Cesar is easily the MLS’ most elite keeper thanks primarily to his experience as a top-level keeper for Inter in the Serie A and for the Brazilian national team – for whom he’s expected to be the number one keeper as Brazil attempts to win its sixth World Cup trophy in front of their home fans. However, Julio Cesar may only have a brief stint in the MLS for Toronto due to him being brought to the club on loan, and it remains to be seen how he adapts to the MLS as a member of a big-spending Toronto FC team.