UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. — It’s getting to be a little silly for Greg Sutton.
A goalkeeper, according to Sutton, is "lucky" — or perhaps more aptly put, unlucky — to “get five in three years.” So imagine how he’s feeling after already facing four spot kicks in his last five games.
In the first half of Friday night’s 2-1 win over New England, the Red Bulls goalkeeper made a spectacular save on a Shalrie Joseph penalty kick. Friday night’s save against the Revolution marked his second save of a penalty kick on the season.
Never in his career, Sutton says, has he faced so many PKs in a season, let alone in such a short stretch of games.
However, there is no denying that Sutton’s save gave the Red Bulls a lift as just a handful of minutes later, the Red Bulls took the lead. New York went on the attack and their continued offensive push resulted in a New England own goal.
“You’re happy that you’re able to bail out the guys,” Sutton said. “I was excited we were able to score soon after that.”
Crucial saves like that one don’t come without preparation. In the days leading up to a match, Sutton will review the penalty kick tendencies of opposing teams with goalkeeper coach Todd Hoffard. Last week, though, the film time amounted to about 30 seconds. Since Joseph is unpredictable in which side he goes, Sutton didn’t spend much time worrying about it — he just wanted to familiarize himself with Joseph’s approach and any other tendencies.
While no goalkeeper wants to find himself in the situation Sutton has faced so often lately, the ‘keeper refuses to blame a New York backline hit hard by international call-ups. And even though center back Stephen Keel was clearly at fault on Friday night against New England, Sutton chalks it up to positional errors and tactical issues with the defenders getting drawn out of position and being forced to play catch-up and foul.
Rather than focus on the pressure of the penalty kicks over the last five games, Sutton chooses to look at the lemons and make lemonade.
“Positionally, we’ve got some things we struggled with,” Sutton said. “[But] it gives us an opportunity to use this as education.”
Despite his strong play on Friday night, head coach Hans Backe conceded that Sutton is by no means the incumbent starter and that goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul is making a strong push in practice for a spot in the starting 11. Coundoul, after all, was the starter for much of the 2010 season unless on international duty with Senegal.
“These two are very, very even,” Backe said.
Kristian R. Dyer can be followed at twitter.com/KristianRDyer