MLS GK’s to watch in 2016: Josh Saunders

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Experienced shot-stopper Josh Saunders has found his feet again at New York City FC, after his career came to a sudden stall during a disappointing spell at Real Salt Lake City back in 2013.

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Despite beginning his NYCFC career with a potential concussion, after hitting his head off of the woodwork just 14 minutes into the club’s MLS debut, Saunders managed to impress enough throughout the season to earn himself a new multi-year contract extension ahead of the 2016 campaign. While the club’s first season was somewhat disappointing, Saunders excelled between the sticks, pulling off a league high of 124 saves, which saw him named as the club’s top defensive player.
“He is a tremendous leader and displays all of the personal and professional qualities we look for in a New York City FC player,” club director Claudio Reyna stated during the off-season. “He had a great season last year and clearly has a special relationship with out supporters.”

The American-born Puerto Rican international, who has turned out for the Central American side twice during his career, initially signed for the San Jose Earthquakes via the 2003 SuperDraft, having impressed during his time at the University of California. However, with both Pat Onstad and Jon Conway ahead of him in the pecking order, Saunders was soon shipped out to Portland Timbers in the second tier, in what was the start of a journeyman career that has, so far, seen him spend time at no less than eight clubs.

An impressive few years with The Timbers, in which he logged a club-record of 363 minutes without conceding, convinced MLS giants LA Galaxy to make a move to secure his services in 2005. However, he would be released two years later, having failed to make a first-team appearance, as the club looked to reduce the wage bill to fund the signing of former-England star David Beckham.

Saunders struggled to find stability over the next few seasons, first joining the Puerto Rico Islanders before moving to Miami FC a year later. After impressing during a brief loan spell, Saunders would finally get the chance to play for LA Galaxy, as he was eventually re-signed as an understudy to first choice Donovan Ricketts.

After two years spent on the bench, an injury to Ricketts would finally provide Saunders with an opportunity to impress in MLS. The club would lose just one game with their new man between the sticks throughout the remainder of the 2011 season, as they marched to their fourth MLS Cup title, and Saunders’ first ever major honour.

Unsurprisingly, Saunders was rewarded with the starting spot for the 2012 season, and he proved to be pivotal in securing the club a second straight MLS Cup victory – the first time in the competition’s history that a club had achieved such a feat. However, despite Saunders’ contribution, the club were quick to dump him late on in the off-season to make way for former-Premier League star Carlo Cudicini, leaving him without a club going into the 2013 campaign.

The ageing goalkeeper would eventually join up with Real Salt Lake. However, with club veteran Nick Rimando holding down the starting spot, Saunders would make just three appearances for the club before a cruciate ligament rupture brought an end to his time in Utah.

Entering his mid-thirties and with his career appearing to be grinding to a halt, most would have expected Saunders to disappear into the background, sitting out his remaining few years on the bench at whatever club would take him on. However, Saunders has managed to turn things around at NYCFC, making himself a key figure at the club both on and off the field.

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