The 2017 Major League Soccer campaign is already providing plenty to talk about in the goalkeeping department, with five of the 22 teams in the league having opted to start the season with a fresh face between the sticks.
Changing goalkeepers can be a difficult task. Solid defensive units are built on good communication and it can often take time for new keepers to synchronize with their new teammates.
That certainly appears to be the case at New England Revolution, where Cody Cropper has taken advantage of Bobby Shuttleworth’s exit and snatched the first choice keeper spot.
While it appeared towards the end of last season that Brad Knighton would take over, Cropper managed to impress in his debut in the final game of the 2016 campaign, earning himself his second appearance against Colorado Rapids earlier this month. Yet, given that the Revs are the only Eastern Conference team that have yet to put a point on the board, Knighton will be confident that he will get the chance to regain his place in the team.
While performing much better in the Western Conference, FC Dallas find themselves with a similar predicament – do they stick with the experienced Chris Seitz, who performed well as the club’s first choice goalkeeper last year, or do they put their faith in talented youngster Jesse Gonzalez? So far, it appears that even head coach Óscar Pareja is unsure of the answer.
Columbus Crew are another club asking the same question after declining to extend the contract of former number one Steve Clark. However, it seems that Gregg Berhalter has made up his mind, selection youngster Zack Steffan over the more experienced option in Brad Stuver.
Despite performing well in pre-season, winning the Carolina Challenge Cup with victories over Atlanta United and Seattle Sounders, things aren’t quite going to plan for Columbus Crew, who have just one point from their opening two MLS matches. Yet, Steffan is one for the future and will need to be given time to adjust to a higher level of soccer before he begins to thrive.
Elsewhere, rather than looking within for their next number one, two clubs decided to dip into the transfer market to find suitable replacement for the goalkeeper position over the winter break.
New York City FC’s decision to sign Chicago Fire’s Sean Johnson was met with pessimism by many MLS fans. Many believed that he would struggle to adapt to NYCFC’s style of play, but he has since set about proving his doubters wrong. With six debutants in the squad to face Orlando City in their opening game, a slow start was to be expected, but Johnson has, so far, done little to warrant any criticism.
Patrick Vieira’s side have since recovered from their 1-0 defeat in their opening game of the season, having recorded a 4-0 victory, which saw them climb up the table into the playoff spots.
While Johnson has settled in well in New York, he certainly hasn’t been missed in Chicago. Veljko Paunović has thrown new recruit Jorge Bava into the gap left by Johnson and the experienced Uruguayan has taken to MLS football extremely well, helping Chicago Fire to four points from their opening two games.