The American Goalkeeper Streak Continues
The USA is well known for having its best talent in between the sticks. Household names like Kasey Keller, Tim Howard and Brad Friedel have paved a way for younger goalkeepers to feel confident in taking on challenges in Europe. As the current crop of USMNT keepers are beginning to get more chances outside the US, we were interested to look into why the USA has been excellent at consistently having goalkeepers amongst their top players for well over a decade. We also ask - are our new goalkeepers better equipped for more success?
A large part of American youth culture is the exposure to sports and athletics from a very young age (ages 5-12). It’s common to see boys and girls playing multiple sports, such as baseball and basketball which develop pinpoint hand eye coordination. Referenced in a USA Today article, sport scientist David Epstein mentions, “There’s this period of brain flexibility, particularly before the age of 12, where you have a window to gain a wide variety of physical skills,” he continues, “And if you take advantage of that, what physiologists call ‘developing a physical literacy,’ there’s some evidence that you become a more well-rounded athlete overall.” Epstein applies this theory to USMNT hero Tim Howard, who held high school records in basketball and soccer.
From this multifaceted exposure, we see US goalkeepers developing into great shotstoppers. They have excellent reflexes and abilities to save high-speed strikes from feet away. Historically, skills that seem lacking are positioning and distribution of the ball. The top goalkeepers in the world are more well rounded, having a full understanding of the game and a commanding presence that can snatch a cross, tip a dipping shot, and organize a defense.
The new generation of American goalies is relatively young. Arguably the top two picks, Ethan Horvath and Zack Steffen, both USMNT keepers with European futures, seem to have better kicking and organization skills than previous keepers.
Horvath’s short distance passing is one of his strengths. This ability seems like it could fit well into ever popular “play out the back” build up for many passing-oriented teams. His ability to sprint out of his line and pick off the ball of a striker’s foot is a testament to his positional play as well. Moreover, he excels in many “traditional” goalkeeper duties as well, including strong reflexes on the line, and similar to Steffen, an ability to perform in big moments (he’s saved 3 out of 10 career penalties). If there is one area of growth, it could be Horvath’s ability to claim lofted crosses coming into the box.
Horvath’s short passing:
Steffen on the other hand is well known for his long passes. This skill quickly starts counter attacks and breakaways, as seen in a recent match against New England in the MLS. Fortunately for the USMNT, his abilities to stop shots from seemingly point blank range, aerial dominance in the box, and an uncanny ability to stop penalties are just as impressive. In fact, at just 23 years old, Steffen has saved 6 out of 16 penalties he’s faced in the MLS or with the USMNT. In short Steffen appears to have all skills necessary to develop into a modern keeper of international statue.
Zack Steffen’s long passing:
There is no guarantee that Horvath and Steffen will reach higher heights than Tim Howard or Brad Friedel. Steffen has yet to be tested in England, but his distribution assets could fit well into the high paced, counter-attack driven style of play that’s popular in the Premier League and we know Guardiola values keepers that can distribute the ball with accuracy.
Horvath has proven himself with shutouts in the Europa and Champions league and could be on the cusp of a transfer to a more competitive national league. What is guaranteed is the potential that these two have. Competition and opportunity should drive them to continue the trend of the famous American keeper.