Everything is magnified in the playoffs – perhaps nothing more so than goalkeeping play.
Make one incredible save, and a ‘keeper can push his team to a trophy. Make one critical error, and a backstop could be at fault for his side’s postseason exit.
How the remaining goalkeepers play will go a long way toward determining how the rest of the postseason shakes out. Just how have they looked so far? Here’s a ranking of all eight, based on how they've performed in their playoff games:
Frei had next to nothing to do in the Sounders' 3-0 Leg 1 win against FC Dallas, but he was huge in Seattle’s 1-0 Knockout Round win against Sporting Kansas City last week. The veteran backstop made seven saves to keep the shutout against SKC, including two huge early stops on Paulo Nagamura, a smart reaction save on a tricky header from Kevin Ellis and a big deflection of a powerful Seth Sinovic drive in the second half. Had he been off his game even a little bit, Sporting – not Seattle – likely would’ve advanced to face FC Dallas.
Howard, as usual, was immense in the biggest game of the Rapids season to date. The US international made three saves, including a huge early stop on a powerful effort from LA midfielder Sebastian Lletget and a solid hold on a late Mike Magee effort in Colorado’s 1-0 loss at LA in Leg 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals.
His saves were solid, but Howard’s best play actually came on a cross. The Designated Player quickly came off his line to athletically nab an Emmanuel Boateng cross in the first half, nabbing the ball with one hand to prevent it from reaching Alan Gordon, who was readying for a tap-in at the back post. If Colorado are to turn the tables on LA at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park on Sunday, Howard will undoubtedly have to again play a huge role.
Matteo Mancosu stole the headlines with his world-class strike, but Bush was equally important to the Impact’s 1-0 win against the New York Red Bulls on Sunday. The 30-year-old goalkeeper made three big saves en route to the shutout, including a solid early stop on a Bradley Wright-Phillips chip attempt, a big second half save on Sacha Kljestan and a great late stop before Wright-Phillips failed to put away the rebound. If he comes up with another performance of that caliber in Leg 2, the Impact just might complete the upset.
Bush did give up two goals without making a save in Montreal’s 4-2 Knockout Round win at D.C. last week, but both strikes came in the dying moments with the game already well in hand.
His inclusion in the lineup was pretty shocking, but Johansen acquitted himself decently in his second-ever start for NYCFC. The 24-year-old Norwegian can’t really be blamed for either goal in the 2-0 loss at Toronto (the second goal did come off a rebound, but the first save was pretty solid in its own right), and did make a huge early stop on Sebastian Giovinco to prevent TFC from racing out to a quick lead. We’ll see if his performance was enough to keep Josh Saunders on the bench for Leg 2 on Sunday.
None of Rowe, Robles or Irwin have had much to do in the playoffs, and all three could pretty much be interchanged in this ranking. I've got Rowe first because he's come up with the biggest saves so far, making solid diving stops on drives from distance in LA’s wins against Real Salt Lake and Colorado. The young ‘keeper, who has been prone to the odd error this season, will need to stay steady this weekend in order for the Galaxy to hold their 1-0 lead in Colorado, where the Rapids haven’t lost all year.
Robles certainly wasn’t at fault on Montreal’s lone goal in the Impact’s Leg 1 win over the Red Bulls – every ‘keeper in the world would’ve struggled to keep out Mancosu’s blast. Apart from the goal, it was a relatively quiet afternoon at Stade Saputo for the reigning Goalkeeper of the Year, who will need to remain on his toes against the counterattacking Impact in Leg 2 on Sunday.
Like Rowe and Robles, Irwin hasn’t had all that much to worry about in either of Toronto’s first two playoff matches. That will likely change this weekend, as high-powered New York City FC will be active in the attack as they chase a 2-0 deficit on Sunday at Yankee Stadium.
Yes, he gave up three goals on Sunday. And yes, he misplayed a cross leading to one of the Sounders’ strikes and got a ball through his legs on another goal. But he did make a couple of sparkling saves – pawing Nelson Valdez’s early chested effort off the line was particularly insane – to keep things from getting any worse for FC Dallas. He’ll need to be better than he was in Leg 1 if FCD are to pull off the comeback, but he’s far from the only reason Dallas are in their 3-0 hole.