SmorgasBorg: Shutouts are no real measure for greatness in Real Salt Lake's goal, aka Nick Rimando
We recite the same numbers after virtually every soccer match that's played in MLS. Yet earlier this week, Philadelphia Union manager John Hackworth called one in particular worthless: a "terrible stat for soccer."
"I think there’s a stat out there that a lot of people look at in soccer and I don’t think it’s a good one and it’s shots, or shots on goal," he said during his weekly press conference before explaining his rationale in greater detail.
Let's throw goalkeeper shutouts into Hackworth's stats trash bin, too.
The category is about to get more national publicity than at any point this season as Real Salt Lake's Nick Rimando (111 career shutouts) is on the verge of tying the MLS record for goalkeeper shutouts currently held by the legendary Kevin Hartman (112).
Name me a soccer player or head coach who actually believes the goalkeeper deserves the shutout all to himself. The clean sheet is obviously a team stat, not an individual stat. The 'keeper, despite being the last line of defense, should not get all the credit for it.
[Plus, if you're really so gung-ho about it, it's shutouts per game that's probably the better indicator, and not overall shutouts. Ex-SKC netminder Jimmy Nielsen leads that category, not allowing a single goal in 35.16 percent of his MLS matches (minimum 60 games), although Matt Besler & Co. might have had a small role in it. Rimando sits in fifth (31.6 percent), while Hartman is 13th (26.92 percent).]
There's a cliché that's repeated around the world about the US sports media and American fans: "They're obsessed with statistics." Let's please prove them wrong on this one.
We successfully did away with points as a measure of attacking soccer prowess after 2004 — remember two points for a goal and one for an assist, as if goals really mattered more than assists? In 1997, Preki won the MLS "scoring title" because he logged 41 points (12 goals and 17 assists), although D.C. United's Jaime Moreno had a league-high 16 goals.
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The grim stats reaper has come for goalkeeper shutouts, too.
But this is not to belittle Rimando's numerous accomplishments over a 15-year MLS career. In fact, we should take advantage of the celebrations over this misleading shutout statistic to give a future Hall of Famer his just due.
Rimando is hands-down the best goalkeeper in Major League Soccer today as he gets set to turn 35 and the road he's taken to get here deserves recognition.
He was underestimated for his height in his early years (he measures 5-foot-9) and when he moved to Salt Lake from D.C. at the end of the 2006 season, his career was at somewhat of a crossroads. There was no doubt that Rimando was capable of the big reflex save, but he wasn't a lockdown MLS starter for D.C. after Ray Hudson, who was also his manager in Miami, left the club.
No one could have foreseen what was about to come next.
Now in his eighth season in Salt Lake, Rimando has become an undisputed leader for an RSL team that has played the best soccer in MLS for the better part of seven years. And he's singlehandedly won several of those games for his team. It's only right he'll be heading to Brazil this summer with the US national team.
But Rimando doesn't need the validation of an empty shutout statistic. Our own eyes have witnessed everything we need to know.
The most commonly used statistics just don't do justice to most goalkeepers, defenders and midfielders. Here's hoping the soccer metric revolution slowly taking shape — and cited by Hackworth for alternatives to the pedestrian "shots" and "shots on goal" — gives us statistic-happy yanks something we can really use to measure the greatness in our midst.