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Final

First XI: Keepers of faith

Tony Meola 55

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A slew of 1-0 games can only mean one thing for this week's First XI, and that's a tribute to the Shot Blockers. So, if you're out there Dave Salzwedel, we remember you well. Tom Liner, our faces still hurt from watching you kiss the post ... Jim St. Andre, we'd have no short-sleeved 'keeper shirts were it not for you ... Thomas Ravelli, we forgive you for blasting the ball at the ref ... and, Cesar Delgado, we know it was only one game. But you all come up just short of making this week's list.

11. Mike Ammann (2000 MetroStars): He was the heart and soul of the greatest Metro team ever. It wasn't easy for Ammann when he replaced New Jersey legend Tony Meola in 1999 and then became part of the worst team in league history, but by mid-2000, when Clint Mathis was scoring goals and flashing the "I Love NY" T-shirt, Ammann was a fan favorite at the Meadowlands. Of course, his fantastic season was knocked off track when Mamadou Diallo failed to pull up on a ball that Ammann had covered. A punctured lung was the result and it appeared Ammann's season was over. Not so quick. After the Fire defeated the MetroStars 3-0 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference playoffs, Ammann pulled a Willis Reed, getting himself back in the net. In Game 2 of the playoffs, a 2-0 MetroStars victory, he made an incredible save on a Hristo Stoitchkov bomb, tipping it over the bar. The Metros came up a goal short in Game 3, but Ammann was still heroic.

10. Scott Garlick (2000 Mutiny): Hard to put a guy with a 1.53 GAA on this list, but on the 2000 Mutiny, Garlick saw so much leather (247 shots), it was amazing he was able to play all 32 games. He was called upon to make a league-record 184 saves. He wasn't always happy, mind you. If you recall, Garlick once got into a nice little dust-up with Diallo ... but still, the man got the job done, there's no fighting that fact.

9. Pat Onstad (2003 Earthquakes): He was the 'keeper of the year on a championship team, sure, but more than anything, Onstad had a calming effect on the Quakes' backline. As you read along in this column, you'll see that there's one foreign MLS keeper who's had a better season than Onstad, but the Canadian international is well on his way to being the best imported keeper in league history.

8. Zach Thornton (1998 Fire): The Beast not only led MLS with eight shutouts and a 1.17 GAA, he also made it impossible for Jorge Campos to get on the field. When Campos left the Fire to join the Mexican national team early in the season, all Thornton did was win 10 games in a row to entrench himself as the Fire's man in the net. He was named KOTY and recorded a shutout in the MLS Cup Final, as Chicago ended D.C.'s championship run.

7. Joe Cannon (2001 Earthquakes): One of the most athletic goalkeepers in league history, Cannon had a blinder of a season for the champion Quakes in 2001. At times Cannon appears to be out of position, but he has the knack for recovering in time to make the saves. His seven shutouts in '01 were second only to Thornton's nine. His 1.09 GAA was 0.01 behind Thornton in the GAA race. He was also KOTY.

6. Jonny Walker (2003 MetroStars): He came in from Chile to replace Tim Howard, and while the MetroStars did not have as much success in the win column after Walker arrived on the scene, it's fair to say that his play was even better than Howard's. His injury-time penalty save on Eddie Johnson was one of the greatest PK saves I've ever seen. He made a series of stops to preserve a tie for the Metros at the Home Depot Center. Without his heroics, the '03 Metros may well have missed out on the playoffs.

5. Kevin Hartman (1999 Galaxy): As anyone who follows MLS knows, the '99 season ended in agony for Hartman. His mis-hit of a dodgy backpass in MLS Cup led to a back-breaking goal for D.C. United. Still, it should be pointed out that '99 was also the season that Hartman emerged as one of the league's top 'keepers. He has been irreplaceable in the Galaxy net since he took over the job from Campos in '98.

4. Tim Howard (2001 MetroStars): Only Garlick saw more shots than Howard in '01, his first full season as an MLS starter. And no 'keeper made more acrobatic saves to keep his club in games. The save I'll remember most when I think of Howard's time in MLS was his point-blank kick save on Diego Serna at the Orange Bowl. Hard to imagine a better reaction save has ever been made in eight-plus MLS seasons.

3. Brad Friedel (1996 Crew): Without Friedel, the '96 Crew were probably not going to make the playoffs. But when he appeared on the scene for the final nine regular season games, everything changed for Columbus. The Crew went 8-1 and made the playoffs. In that run, Friedel had a GAA of 0.78. A year later, Friedel was also outstanding, winning the KOTY award, but it was '97 when he single-handedly carried the Crew. Of course, by the end of the '97 season, Brad was on his way to the English Premier League, and the goal has never looked quite the same to Columbus' opponents.

2. Walter Zenga (1997 Revolution): You really don't need much more than the numbers here. In the 22 games Zenga played for New England in '97, the Revs went 15-7. In the 10 games they played without him, the Revs were 0-10. Though he was 41 years old at the time, the Spiderman could still cover the net like no one's business. That said, he did not really have to show up in '98 with hair and the player-coaching position. His '97 legacy would've been much better.

1. Tony Meola (2000 Wizards): The best season any MLS keeper has ever had. Period. Goalkeeper of the Year, MVP, Comeback Player of the Year, MLS Cup MVP. Tony lost money on the deal when he had to put an addition on his house just to create room for all the hardware. Meola also deserves recognition here for being the league's best 'keeper over the entire eight-plus seasons of MLS. My personal best memory of Tony comes from an exhibition game at Giants Stadium against Fiorentina in '96. Seriously, this game would have been about 10-0 were it not for Meola's acrobatics.

Jeff Bradley is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. Send your comments and complaints (200 words or less, please) to Jeff and he promises to read (but not respond to) all of them. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.


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