With Rais Mbolhi's move to the Philadelphia Union, are foreign goalkeepers becoming a trend in MLS?

Rais Mbolhi, Algeria

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Action Images

With the acquisition of Rais Mbolhi on Wednesday, the Philadelphia Union added to the relatively small crop of foreign goalkeepers who have come to MLS.

There have only been 32 goalkeepers who hail from outside the United States or Canada to make an appearance in a MLS game. Only 20 of these 32 players have played more than 10 games in the league.

Generally, foreign ‘keepers have fit into one of two categories: young players who came to the US for college or experienced players who came to MLS after years playing in foreign leagues.

The first category describes players like Stefan Frei, Bouna Coundoul and Milos Kocic. These three are just examples of players who spent the first part of their lives on foreign soil before coming to the North America. They all attended college here and were drafted by an MLS team in the SuperDraft.

The second category is where players like Donovan Ricketts, Jimmy Nielsen and Michael Gspurning come in. There are many more examples of these types of 'keepers coming to MLS, but these three all came to the US after successful European careers.

In the past couple of years, this has become more and more common in MLS. All you have to do is look at the past year-and-a-half, in which we have seen Raul Fernandez, David Ousted, Jaime Penedo and Julio Cesar enter the league. These players have had varying success in MLS, but there is no doubt that we are seeing more teams resort to this option when it comes to their goalkeeping corps.

It’s not necessarily a unique trend over the past couple of years, as one of the big acquisitions in the early days of the league was Jorge Campos, one of the best goalkeepers in Mexico and a regular for El Tri. Former Italy star Walter Zenga followed a year later.

Check out the chart below with foreign 'keepers and the year they arrived in MLS, and notice the uptick in arrivals over the past couple of seasons. Also see the entire list of foreign goalkeepers who have ever played a minute in MLS. 

Foreign GKs Arrival in MLS

PLAYER MINUTES IN MLS YEARS IN MLS
Donovan Ricketts (Jamaica) 13,652 2009-Present
Jimmy Nielsen (Denmark) 11,497 2010-2013
Stefan Frei (Switzerland) 9,021 2009-Present
Darío Sala (Argentina) 8,845 2005-2010
Bouna Coundoul (Senegal) 8,823 2005-2011
Jorge Campos (Mexico) 4,326 1996-1998
Michael Gspurning (Austria) 4,320 2012-2013
Walter Zenga (Italy) 4,105 1997-1999
Milos Kocic (Serbia) 3,679 2009-2013
Raúl Fernández (Peru) 3,168 2013-Present
David Ousted (Denmark) 2,970 2013-Present
Faryd Mondragón (Colombia) 2,385 2011
Jaime Penedo (Panama) 2,250 2013-Present
Chris Woods (England) 2,070 1996
Thomas Ravelli (Sweden) 2,053 1998
Carlo Cudicini (Italy) 1,890 2013
Louis Crayton (Liberia) 1,620 2008-2009
Ronald Waterreus (Netherlands) 1,557 2007
Aidan Heaney (England) 1,534 1996-1997
Frank Rost (Germany) 945 2011
Shaka Hislop (Trinidad) 900 2006-2007
Paolo Tornaghi (Italy) 810 2012-Present
Srdjan Djekanovic (Serbia) 635 2007
Freddy Hall (Bermuda) 630 2012
Júlio César (Brazil) 630 2014
Tony Caig (England) 602 2008
José Fernández (Bolivia) 578 2001
Sergio García (Mexico) 441 2005
Martín Zuñiga (Mexico) 360 2005
Jake Gleeson (New Zealand) 315 2011-Present
César Delgado (Mexico) 90 1999
José Carvallo (Peru) 90 2008