HOUSTON – Joe Willis didn’t imagine he’d be thrust into the starting goalkeeper role for the Houston Dynamo in the middle of the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs, but, now that he’s in net, the veteran is committed to helping his club all the way to the final.
Willis was inserted into the starting lineup after starter Tyler Deric was suspended by MLS following his arrest following an alleged domestic incident after Leg 1 of the Dynamo’s Western Conference Semifinal series against Portland on Oct. 31.
The MLS Player of the Month for October, Deric recorded four shutouts in a row prior to his suspension. That made for some big shoes to fill for Willis, who made three saves and allowed one goal in Houston’s Leg 2 win at the Timbers on Nov. 5.
“I think everyone on the team is pretty excited, I think that this entire season we’ve been a little overlooked and I think specially the past few weeks we’ve proved our worth,” Willis said.
Willis has been in this position before. Back in 2012, Willis, then with D.C. United, had to fill in for Bill Hamid after the Black-and-Red’s starter was shown a red card in a playoff series against the New York Red Bulls. He came up huge in relief of the US international, saving a penalty to give D.C. the series win before allowing three goals in a loss to Houston in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Championship.
Willis, who started 26 games last season, was in contention for the No. 1 job under new head coach Wilmer Cabrera in preseason, but an untimely knee injury put him on the bench to start the year. He ended up making eight starts during the regular season, though none after July 1.
Now he’s back between the posts, and ready to make up for lost time ahead of the first leg of the West Championship series against Seattle on Nov. 21.
“We still have 10 days until our next game, or however many, so right now we are trying not to get too excited – try to keep a good pace at practice but not overdo it,” he said. “We try to stay fit and stay sharp for the game.”
“I think it’s just going to be, keep doing the same thing we’ve been doing,” he added later. “We have stayed compact defensively, we have been hard to break down and when we attack, we attack quickly and with purpose.”