Arguably the two most-pressurized positions in soccer are those tasked with putting goals in the back of the net, and those tasked with keeping them out. Without a doubt, the Championship has seen its fair share of standout goalkeepers over its first nine seasons, a select group who have risen to meet the challenges a campaign can bring, willing their sides to success along the way.
This, though, isn’t a definitive list of those players.
Instead, it’s a group that includes young standouts looking to climb the ladder while simultaneously helping their teams succeed. These are players in new situations that could prove key to their clubs, and those that might need to be among the best to ensure their squad achieves its goals at the end of this season.
As we count down to opening night, here are the 10 goalkeepers you’ll want to watch in 2020.
If 2019 was the first big step in Aaron Cervantes’ career – seeing him not only make his official debut in the Championship and be named to the U.S. U-17 National Team at the FIFA U-17 World Cup – then 2020 could be transformative for the highly-regarded prospect. Through Orange County’s new partnership with Rangers FC, Cervantes spent time with fellow OCSC players Francis Jacobs and Diego Lopez training with the historic Scottish club this offseason, opening a new avenue for his potential path in the pro ranks. Set to turn 18 years old later this month, Cervantes will have to compete for playing time with Frederick Due, but there will be plenty of eyes on each start he makes for Orange County this season.
Given his history at both the University of Michigan and USL League Two’s Flint City Bucks – where he was voted 2012 League Two Goalkeeper of the Year – it’s been arguably a surprise that Adam Grinwis has yet to lock down a consistent starting position in his previous stops in the Championship with 14 appearances for Saint Louis FC in 2017 mark his single-season high in the league. After two seasons with Orlando City SC in Major League Soccer where he served as a back-up – but also starred in the Lions’ run to the Semifinals of the 2019 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup – the 27-year-old may finally get that opportunity with Republic FC this season. If he does, the chance to show what he can do entering his prime can’t be squandered.
Locomotive FC fans got to see the best of Logan Ketterer regularly throughout the 2019 season. His four penalty-kick saves on six shots were the most by any goalkeeper in the Championship as he ranked fourth in the league with 13 shutouts and registered 70 saves overall for the campaign. There was also a downside, however, as Ketterer also finished tied for the league-lead with three errors that led to opposition goals. If the 26-year-old can clean up that aspect of his game, though, it could lead to an even better second season for El Paso and potentially put Ketterer in the picture for end-of-season honors.
After 11 years as part of the New York Red Bulls organization, having joined the club’s academy in 2008, Evan Louro brought his stellar resume to the Rowdies this offseason, where he should take over from the departed John McCarthy – departed for Inter Miami FC – as the club’s new start. The numbers Louro put up in the Red Bulls II’s high-pressure system might not jump off the page – he recorded a 63.1 save percentage and a 1.65 goals-against average in 79 appearances in the Championship – but one thing the 24-year-old consistently showed was the ability to make key stops when they matter. The Rowdies experienced that up close in a six-save performance that allowed New York to eliminate them from the 2018 USL Championship Playoffs, and in Louro’s 3-1-1 overall record against Tampa Bay in his career. A stronger defensive structure in front of him should allow Louro’s numbers to rise, while his presence could allow Tampa Bay to make a serious title run.
There was no doubting Trey Muse’s potential as he joined Seattle Sounders FC as a Homegrown signing before the 2019 season, and he produced one of the individual performances of the season in the Championship with a 13-save display against New Mexico United for Tacoma Defiance that tied a league record for the most saves in a single game. With Stefan Frei still firmly in place in Seattle, though, Muse will be aiming to build on his 22 appearances last season in Tacoma this campaign and alongside his young teammates push the side higher in the Western Conference standings. If things go right, and Tacoma’s added experience helps things along the way, Muse could become this year’s version of Real Monarchs SLC goalkeeper David Ochoa and push his way to the front of the line as Frei’s successor at CenturyLink Field.
If last season was the prelude to John Pulskamp’s professional career, this season at Sporting Kansas City II could be the major step forward to the 18-year-old’s future. Pulskamp made the most starts between the sticks for Head Coach Paulo Nagamura’s side, but with 14 appearances he also split time with Eric Dick (9 appearances) and Adrian Zendejas (8 appearances). Both of those players are now elsewhere, Dick going on loan to Phoenix Rising FC for the season and Zendejas selected by Nashville SC in the MLS Expansion Draft, which means Pulskamp – last week moved onto a Homegrown Player contract by SKC – will likely get all the opportunities he needs to thrive and help SKC II get back to its previous place as a playoff contender.
Coming off a junior season at the University of Maryland where he was named the NCAA Tournament’s Defensive MVP, Dayne St. Clair was the first goalkeeper selected in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft by Minnesota United FC. But as with all goalkeeping prospects, the 22-year-old Canadian is still going to need regular minutes, which meant last season a stint with Forward Madison FC in USL League One, and this season a season-long loan to San Antonio FC. St. Clair – who last week was named in Canada’s 50-man provisional list ahead of Concacaf Olympic Qualifying this month – will have competition for playing time from incumbent Matt Cardone, but the high hopes produced by his college career mean the spotlight will be firmly on the 6-foot-5 shot-stopper as he looks to help SAFC return to the postseason.
There could be no place like home for Brian Sylvestre this season, with the Hollywood, Florida native joining Miami FC as it arrives in the Championship as he enters the prime of his career. The 27-year-old was stellar at Forward Madison FC last season, posting a save percentage of 73 percent and a 1.00 goals-against average and five shutouts over 17 appearances. If those numbers can be replicated over a full season in the Championship, it would go a long way to ensuring Miami is the contender it wants to be in the Eastern Conference. It could also mean a settled long-term future for Sylvestre, who has suited up at all levels of the professional game for six different organizations since arriving in the professional ranks in 2011.
There have been fewer goalkeepers more consistent in the USL Championship in recent seasons than Alex Tambakis, both in quality of performance and volume of saves. Since the start of the 2016 season, the Greek shot-stopper has racked up the most saves of any goalkeeper in the Championship with 291 across the regular season and playoffs, and twice in that span he’s recorded a save percentage of at least 74 percent. That’s not only made him a fan-favorite at NCFC – just check out how many Fans’ Choice awards he’s won the last two seasons – but also one of the key figures for the club’s success. If Tambakis has another stellar season, then North Carolina can take another step forward toward title contention.
The veteran shot-stopper was maybe the most important player for Legion FC in 2019. He ranked fifth in the Championship with 11 shutouts and 14th in the league with 82 saves while playing error-free – Van Oekel only made one mistake that led to a shot in 2019 according to Opta – which was essential to the side securing its place in the postseason, and Van Oekel earning a strong fan-following in the stands at BBVA Field. It wasn’t all perfect for the 33-year-old, his save percentage was below league average at just 61.7 percent, but after coming through an expansion season that saw Birmingham improve as the season went on, the veteran is someone Legion FC should be able to count on for another strong campaign.
Tag(s): Features San Antonio FC Orange County SC Sacramento Republic FC Tampa Bay Rowdies Adam Grinwis Evan Louro Trey Muse Matt Van Oekel Birmingham Legion FC El Paso Locomotive FC Aaron Cervantes John Pulskamp Brian Sylvestre Tacoma Defiance Logan Ketterer Sporting KC II The Miami FC Dayne St Clair