Three more weeks of play will determine the league’s five remaining playoff teams. Matches at this point in the season are battles, as players are fighting injuries and fatigue, trying to stay alive in the tables. As I do every month here at Goal.com, we’re counting down the MLS contenders for the Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year Award, which will be presented in November.
The goals do not come very frequently for Sporting KC, but that did not prevent them from becoming the first club out of the East to clinch a playoff spot. With Nielsen in goal this season, Sporting owns the goals allowed category, conceding only 25 in 31 matches played. Of Nielsen’s league-leading 17 wins and 7 draws, the captain has kept his opponents scoreless 14 times. After posting three wins and two draws in September, Sporting KC has now gone two full months without a loss.
At this point in the season, we begin to narrow down by games won and points salvaged at crucial intervals of each match to determine the worth of each goalkeeper and their importance to making a run in the playoffs. Regardless of how offensively sound San Jose has been this season, the Earthquakes are in a better position because of reliable play from Jon Busch between the sticks. Busch, the 2008 Goalkeeper of the Year, knows exactly what it takes to perform during the winning time of a season.
Nick Rimando has regained top form, as he was voted by fans for making the save of the week on two separate occasions in September – both point-blank headers that surely would have found the back of the net against any other keeper. RSL is playoff bound and playing great soccer when it matters most in the schedule. Fifteen wins, 11 shutouts and only 1.10 goals allowed per game, and having Rimando in net makes Real an honest contender for the MLS Cup.
Talk about a comeback. Unbeaten since Aug. 5, the Galaxy have clinched a playoff spot with a handful of games to spare. During that same run, Josh Saunders has kept the net clean in four of seven matches, propelling a lost team to contender status. Back to my earlier point of determining the keepers most valuable to their organization, the Galaxy average two points in the standings each match with Saunders in at goal and 0.29 points without him. He’s clearly a catalyst for the defending champions.
Sean Johnson and team enjoyed another solid month of play to help their playoff ambitions. The Fire put together four consecutive wins in September before Sporting KC halted the streak. What has been most impressive about Johnson as of late is his big-time saves against opponents within striking distance in the league table. Johnson’s brightest moments of the month came in wins over Houston and Columbus. What I’d like to see is a little more polish and fundamentals from the keeper, but it’s apparent that Johnson is destined for big things.