There are a handful of USMNT goalkeepers that now feature for major clubs, particularly in England.
For example, Ethan Horvath helped Nottingham Forest clinch promotion to the Premier League this past season. Then, Matt Turner now plays for Arsenal in a side filled with young talent. Zack Steffen featured in cup finals for Manchester City in what is perhaps the best overall side in Europe.
Plus, Chicago Fire goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina looks set to join a Premier League ‘big six’ side at Chelsea, should a deal go through.
The one issue is that none of these goalkeepers start, or will start, at their clubs in the upcoming season. Worse off, this is a World Cup year, and there are instances of goalkeepers lacking playing time struggling on the grandest stage.
So, here is the situation. The United States has its most talented squad in history. With players making a push to break through at some of the biggest clubs in the world, there are drawbacks internationally. Each goalkeeper will be in the same boat in regards to conditioning and form, in the sense that it will be slim to no in-game experience, which is crucial to goalkeepers.
Here is how that shapes up for the United States now five months out from the World Cup in Qatar.
The importance of playing time
In the months leading up to the 2014 World Cup, Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas sat behind Diego Lopez at Real Madrid. The Spanish international helped Real win the UEFA Champions League in 2014, but consistent play time eluded him.
When Spain played the Netherlands in the 2014 opener for both sides, Iker Casillas was dreadful. A handful of mistakes leading directly to goals punished Spain to an eventual defeat, 5-1. In the next game, Iker Casillas failed to properly deal with an Alexis Sánchez free kick, and Charles Aránguiz scored Chile’s second. The back-to-back defeats eliminated Spain just four years after Casillas was the hero in the World Cup Final.
Four years prior, Casillas dominated the play between the sticks at the Santiago Bernabeu. He was the undisputed starter, and thus consistently faced top opposition. He played a major role in Spain giving up just two goals in the entire tournament. Casillas held a shutout in each of Spain’s four knockout phase games.
It would be hard to compare those Spain teams to the current batch of the United States. That Spain team won back-to-back European Championships with a World Cup in between. The USMNT celebrates one of its best years in history with just a Gold Cup and CONCACAF Nations League.
However, the sentiment holds true. Play time is key for a goalie. Particularly with Turner and Steffen’s tendency to handle the ball, touch goes away
USMNT Goalkeepers in a dilemma
First off, note that the situation for each of these goalies over the coming months of the club season are remarkably similar. Zack Steffen is currently the backup to Ederson at Manchester City. He plays in cup ties, including the semifinal of the FA Cup where he made mistakes that led to goals. That, in itself, signals the importance of play time.
Ethan Horvath appeared in Nottingham Forest’s Championship Playoff. Yet, that was as a substitute replacing starting goalkeeper. In his slim 10 starts in all competitions from this past season, Horvath actually performed well. Three clean sheets highlight an overall record of five wins, three losses and a pair of draws. Moreover, two of those losses came against Premier League opposition, including a narrow 1-0 loss against Liverpool where Horvath stopped six shots on target.
Matt Turner and Gabriel Slonina will back up Aaron Ramsdale and Edouard Mendy, respectively. Turner is entering his prime at the age of 27. Yet, he likely takes a backseat to Aaron Ramsdale, who performed well in his first year at the Emirates. Slonina, on the other hand, is still just 18. Playing time is important for development, but he has the opportunity to learn from someone like Edouard Mendy and potentially become Chelsea’s main man in a few years time.
Finally, Sean Johnson is a name that hovered around over the last decade. Now 33 years old, Johnson is the oldest of Gregg Berhalter’s options. Simultaneously, he played second fiddle to the likes of Tim Howard, Brad Guzan or even Nick Rimando the last time the United States qualified for the World Cup. However, in the June 2022 camp, Johnson replaced Steffen when Steffen left for personal reasons. He pitched a shutout in a friendly against Uruguay. He also earned MVP honors as NYCFC lifted its first MLS Cup a season ago.
Vote in the poll below, knowing the current outlook on the USMNT goalkeeper situation, for who should be the shot-stopper in Qatar.
PHOTO: John Dorton/ISI Photos/Getty Images
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