As the new cycle begins, we’re all expecting young talent to make some national team appearances. Bill Hamid almost made the last World Cup roster this last go-around and both Sean Johnson and Cody Cropper have received call-ups within the last year. It brings up the question, how much does potential play into receiving a call-up? Where is the floor for players’ current ability? On top of that, why is Rimando still in the picture? He’s 35 now and will be 39 by the next World Cup. Surely, he is on the downside of his career.
Players always mention the honor in playing for the US National Team. But the honor in a call-up must be based off of current merit, not promise. You don’t reward someone for what they’re going to do. The focus right now should be on the Gold Cup in nine months, not the 2018 World Cup. Rimando is still in the picture because he’s one of three best goalkeeping options for the US and will help the team next summer. With that in mind, struggling goalkeepers do not need to be called into camp. Sean Johnson is still experiencing growing pains with Chicago and Cody Cropper had a rough outing against Brazil on Monday (his first touch led to a goal). If Klinsmann wants to get a closer look at a goalie, he can visit a practice or attend a game but it’s a waste of a call-up to call-in a struggling goalkeeper when there are veterans who are at the peak of their games. The senior national team is not a developing program. Clubs develop players, not national teams. Reward those that are ready now and encourage the ones who will be there one day.
That said, here are three viable options Klinsmann needs to take a look at that can assist the US in their next run in the 2015 Gold Cup, if not beyond.
1. Steve Clark – Clark has a familiar late bloomer story for American soccer fans. Undrafted coming out of Oakland University, he bounced around in the US’s lower leagues before going abroad. Finally landing with Hønefoss, he was a big reason why they earned promotion into the Tippeligaen, Norway’s premier league. After a disappointing finish in 2013 (Hønefoss finished with 34 goals scored in 30 games) Clark came back to play in MLS. He displayed a superb spring and quickness but also a DIY-technique he had learned and was the definition of “raw”. Columbus goalkeeper coach, and two time MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, Pat Onstad has honed Clark to a great final product. He’s playing angles well, his hands are in smart positions, and he still maintained his lateral reach.
Recently, Clark was runner-up in MLS’s save of the week… to himself. He’s the best goalkeeper in MLS at the moment and getting better. Look for Columbus to win the five seed in the East and for Clark to give their playoff opponent fits at the end of October.
2. Luis Robles – The only goalkeeper on this list that has a cap although Robles hasn’t been with the US team since his appearance in the summer of 2009. Out of the all the keepers on the list, Robles is the most consistent. He plays smart and knows exactly of what he’s capable of. He’s been crucial in helping New York clinch the playoffs despite being on one of the worst defenses in the league, sitting third in allowing shots against.
The main downside to Robles is that he doesn’t necessarily stand out in any one category. He’s not as explosive Hamid or Clark, he’s not that iconic outside the New York crowd, and he’s hasn’t been in the spotlight like heralded prodigies that go overseas, despite actually going overseas. For whatever reason, Robles has remained largely unnoticed in the depth pool. However he has the presence that would translate well to the international game.
3. Joe Bendik – Bendik and Clark share several similarities. He wasn’t drafted coming out of college and ended up in Norway. Bendik signed with Sogndal and also gained promotion, although Bendik wasn’t as involved with his club as Clark was. He returned to MLS and eventually found his way to Toronto. At the end of this season he’ll have one and a half seasons as a starter under his belt. (He spent time as a backup to loanee Julio Cesar.)
Bendik’s season has been about what one would expect from a twenty-five year old. Mostly solid play with the occasion conceded goal centered around lack of experience, not a lack of skill. An odd situation where the ball takes a weird bounce, a forgotten backside runner, a delayed thought to recognize the through ball… Bendik has all the tools to be an elite starter within MLS but he still has some growing to do. As for now, he’s still good enough to start and the kind of player you want to build your team around.
Since we’re on the subject, the USYNTs are notorious for staying with their two goalkeepers and not bringing in new competition. (Although to be fare Charlie Horton was called into the last U23 game, a name that was far from the radar for most fans.) This next Olympic cycle will likely feature Cody Cropper as the number one and Santiago Castaño as the number two. Here are three more goalkeepers that deserve a look or, at the very least, allow you to say you knew about them first.
1. Jon Kempin – Kempin made a splash in Kansas City this year with his penalty heroics. Look for Kansas City to make some room for Kempin next year as he’s currently sitting number three.
2. Alex Bono – The starter for Syracuse University, who are 11-1 and sitting number four in the nation. Bono and Syracuse take on North Carolina State on ESPN 3, October 25th.
3. Paul Blanchette – At 6’3″, 200 pounds, Blanchette has more the frame of a college tight end than your typical goalkeeper. The starter for Loyola Marymount University is a little harder to catch on TV but his highlight reel doesn’t disappoint.
For more information about the depth pool on American goalkeepers and some analysis on Bill Hamid’s strengths and weaknesses, feel free to skim the latest edition of Top 100 American Goalkeepers.