Bill Reno: How to Make an MLS Goalkeeper (And How Well the Red Bulls Are Doing at It) Part II

Bill Reno joins RBNN this week to take a deep dive into goalkeeper development. Bill’s other written work can be found at ‘EVERYBODY SOCCER’. This is part one of a three part series.
Everybody Soccer is dedicated to following goalkeepers, typically centered on the American game although occasionally branching elsewhere. All articles, lists, and analysis found on ES are compiled by Bill Reno, unless otherwise noted.

by Bill Reno

Overcoming College Soccer’s Ineptitudes

“But college soccer was good enough for Brad Friedel and Kasey Keller!” Okay, fictional reader, I’m going to need you to curtail it a bit here.

First off, the landscape is certainly different now than it was twenty years ago. Secondly, and more importantly, no country around the world is mimicking the collegiate setup. That’s not to say elite players haven’t come out of the NCAA, but it’s well below the threshold of what those in the professional development world call consider “good”.

There are a number of real challenges to the development of a goalkeeper going through the college route. After a spell training with familiar coaches and peers, constantly changing environments fill the next four to five years. Assuming the player stays at one school for all four years (around 1 in 7 transfer), their training/playing schedule is erratic, to say the least. In the fall, their team plays 15-20 games (it’s a whirlwind, lemme tell ya) and then just a total of five from mid-December to mid-May. Such a tight window leaves no room to reschedule matches postponed due to poor weather.

If the players are lucky enough to survive the jam-packed fall without a longstanding injury (cross your fingers), they can supplement the collegiate season with private training and PDL ball, the latter offering 10-15 matches. Game time is great and all but within a year they’ve probably trained with two or three different coaches on different teams. Goalkeeper coaches aren’t exactly the most stable or reliable service for amateur players, so by the end of their four years, they’ve likely trained with at least ten different coaches, all offering different advice and emphasizing different aspects of the game.

I can’t state enough how detrimental a hodgepodge of coaches can be for a player’s development. They’ll offer contradictory standards, critiques, and tactics. With such a quick turnover, priorities are shortsighted and the coach has little incentive to see the development through. (Who’s to say they’ll still be there in two years?) The recruiting process rarely includes goalkeeping coaches. If they are, it’s likely they won’t stay long enough for the goalkeeper to actually show up on campus.

The revolving door of coaches also means at least one of them won’t be very good. That isn’t exactly helpful for a player. Ultimately, the goalkeeper runs the risk of becoming a “jack of all trades, master of none”. The standard kept up relies on the individual and not the program overseeing their year-round development. Fortunately, a new route is starting to solidify for goalkeepers: the USL! *cue angelic music*

Okay, okay, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. There are still a number of shortcomings with many USL problems, most notably the lack of a backroll compared to a top D1 school. However if a player is looking to get to the top of their game, as well as the soccer pyramid in the US, then this is something they should heavily consider. And when we survey the Red Bulls’ USL side, they have room to grow.

While Evan Louro sent some waves when he signed as a homegrown after leaving Michigan early, for how many goalkeepers RBNY are pumping out every year, it’s odd only one has even turned out to be good enough for the USL side. Most of their academy products aren’t even finishing college. Plus, it’s not even a sure bet Louro is on track to take over after Robles. The Red Bulls are realistically 7-10 years away from seeing an academy product take over the starting spot. Despite the Red Bulls head start, young goalkeeper inclusion at the USL side is still a rarity.

As we enter 2019, more and more teams are pulling keepers out of college early. In some cases, they enourage goalkeepers to skip college altogether. FC Dallas signed Carlos Avilez to their newly minted USL squad. The Galaxy include a number of young goalkeepers in with their reserve team, most notably Eric Lopez and Abraham Romero. Matt Freese (Philadelphia), David Ochoa (RSL), JT Marcinkowski (San Jose), and Trey Muse (Seattle) all joined MLS before finishing college. Even Abraham Rodriguez, a 16 year old with the Colorado Rapids, is getting some time in the USL. The Red Bulls have some young options to sign but they’re about to get lapped by other MLS teams if they can’t starting making some serious strides.

RBNY grade for U23 goalkeeper development: C-

Photo by Bill Twomey Photography

About Joseph Goldstein

Joseph Goldstein is the managing editor of RBNN as well as the co-host of the Seeing Red and Raising Bulls podcasts.

View all posts by Joseph Goldstein →

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