A Conversation on Goalkeeping: The Top 5 NWSL Keepers of the First Third

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusreddittumblrmailFacebooktwittergoogle_plusreddittumblrmail

Goalkeeping is hard. Really hard. And 8 weeks into the season Jordan and I picked out the five NWSL goalkeepers we think have done the best job of doing a hard thing well.

We’re not saying they have been perfect. No goalkeeper ever is over this many games. But these five, we feel, have really stood out.


Number 5 – Nicole Barnhart – FC Kansas City

RJ Allen:

I know some of you might be tuning your pitch forks because Barnie is so low. But hear us out.

Jordan Small:

So here we have Barnie. Can we think of a more consistent goalkeeper over the last five years? This weekend she made her 300th career save. That should speak for itself.

She also has the benefit of having a really great defense in front of her which definitely helps.

RJ Allen:

Averbush and Sauerbrunn might be the best centerback pairing in the NWSL right now. And Barnie really has benefited from having them in front of her. Not her fault but it does knock her a bit down the list. She just hasn’t had as much to do.

Jordan Small:

I think when you look at the other goalkeepers in the league that won’t make our list, it makes a lot of sense where she ended up. She’s just the first one up on a great list of five.

RJ Allen:

She really is great at organizing her backline. Which, when you have who she has on her line might sound easier. But still experienced players sometimes need a firm hand too.

Jordan Small:

That has always been one of her best qualities. Great leader back there.

RJ Allen:

One of the very few downsides is she has lost about 1/4 of the step in the last year or two. And sometimes that does show when she’s coming out for a ball or trying to get a shot. She’ll get a glove on it but not make a grab like she could before. But Father Time pulls no punches.

Jordan Small:

And I think that is what makes her great performances even better. She is just that skilled. I hope to see her for another few years because she is so much fun to watch.

RJ Allen:

She really is fun to watch. And like you said, hitting that 300 saves mark is pretty amazing.

Jordan Small:

She’s obviously doing something right.


#4 – Abby Smith – Boston Breakers

RJ Allen:

The is one of the moves on our list. We tackled the top 10 in our very first look at the goalkeepers. Smith was 6th on our first list. Why the move up, Jordan?

Jordan Small:

Because she is just getting better and better each week. She is making tough saves look easy which is the sign of a great goalkeeper. She has really proven that she has recovered from her injury. And now she has a much deserved call up to the US squad for her efforts.

RJ Allen:

I was really happy to see her called up to the senior team. We don’t know if she will be playing at all against Norway or Sweden but just being on the trip I think is a great reward for her level of play.

Jordan Small:

I think she has been the best goalkeeper in the US system so far this season so I hope she gets at least a few minutes.

RJ Allen:

I really do agree with you on that. We’ll talk about another American later on but they haven’t gotten a sniff at from either the U teams or the full NT. With Smith I think she does have a chance to challenge for a spot.

Jordan Small:

Unlike Barnie, she really isn’t working with a great backline so I think she should be given a lot of credit. I mean who would have thought that Boston would have been able to shutout a team like Seattle? Smith deserves a lot of recognition for her efforts so far this year.

RJ Allen:

She is already better than her first game at knowing when to hold back and knowing when to challenge. That’s a lot of improvement in a pretty short window.

Jordan Small:

Her ability to read the game is amazing. And her distribution is one of the best in the league which is a really underrated skill.

RJ Allen:

If she’s like this now I can’t wait to see what some NT training and more games does to her game.

Jordan Small:

She can only get better from here.


#3 – Kailen Sheridan – Sky Blue FC

RJ Allen:

This is the biggest jump on our list. From #8 to #3. We have been talking about this update for a few weeks and every time we do we seem to move Sheridan higher and higher.

Jordan Small:

We even moved her higher today. I’ve been incredibly surprised with her play. Back when we originally did this, we had her as the third-ranked Canadian goalkeeper. Over the past few weeks, I really see her competing for that second spot and maybe even the first because I think she has played better than D’Angelo as of late.

RJ Allen:

I’ve been to the last three Sky Blue home games and it seems like at each game she is just leaps and bounds better than the game before. She hasn’t been perfect but I have to keep reminding myself she is a rookie. She is playing like someone who has no fear.

Jordan Small:

I think the midweek game vs. North Carolina and then the Orlando game just after that were her two best games. She was playing out of her mind in both of those games. I think she has put in a serious case for Rookie of the Year. She has been that good so far.

RJ Allen:

Honestly I am really thinking she should be in the three nominations for Goalkeeper of the Year. Not that Rookie of the Year isn’t important, it is, but I think she has moved past the rookie designation and just been flat out one of the best in her position.

Jordan Small:

I totally agree with that. I really think our top three all have great cases for Goalkeeper of the Year. It’s been an incredible year for goalkeepers.

RJ Allen:

One other thing I think it’s worth taking note of for Sheridan. Her first choice backline? Two rookies, a sophomore and the GOAT of defending. Mandy Freeman and Kayla Mills are both rookies, Erica Skroski is a second-year player, though Christie Pearce’s resume couldn’t fit on a foot of parchment at 10 point font.

Jordan Small:

I’ve mentioned this on The Scouting Report many times, Christie Pearce has helped so much. I would take just about anyone on my backline if that meant having Pearce back there. A goalkeeper’s dream, especially a rookie goalkeeper.

RJ Allen:

You can tell Sheridan is learning from her which is great to see. And Sheridan has been more vocal and taking more more of the duties that Pearce had taken on herself that should be on the goalkeeper at the start of the season. It’s really one of the best mentorships in the league.


#2 – Stephanie Labbe – Washington Spirit

RJ Allen:

Here is where I turn everything over to Jordan and just let her tell you why Steph Labbé is a rock star.

Jordan Small:

Where do I even begin? First, I want to take a saying from our good friend Sandra and just say that Steph Labbé, we do not deserve you.

She picked up her first shutout of the year this past weekend after making eight saves. Each and every week it seems as if she has a save that could be a Save of the Week candidate. She does not have the greatest backline but somehow she still it keeping them in games. Aside from the week against Seattle, she has been a straight up beast.

RJ Allen:

It’s like she has decided that she is going to keep Washington from being blown out each and every game through sheer force of will.

Jordan Small:

And when we talk to her after the game, it seems that way too. It was nice to see her hard work pay off and to finally have a happy Labbé after a game. Can’t wait to see her play with Canada this week.

RJ Allen:

I say it on The Scouting Report all the time. Canada right now has the best cabal of goalkeepers in the world. It’s really amazing how deep they are and Labbé is leading the way for them.

Jordan Small:

Absolutely. If I’m John Herdman, I’ve got to be loving life right now.

RJ Allen:

I do wonder if there does come a point she just can’t keep up with Washington’s bad backline. That’s a lot of saves, a lot of amazing saves too, she has to make every week. Does there come a point she hurts herself trying to save them or just gets really lit up?

Jordan Small:

She is in such great shape, I hope that helps her. I never want to think about players getting hurt.

RJ Allen:

No, that’s never a fun place to go to. But as long as she keeps playing like she does Washington has a shot to get a few wins under their belt after the FIFA break.

Jordan Small:

I sure hope so. I think the shutout was good for everyone’s confidence.


#1 – Haley Kopmeyer – Seattle Reign

RJ Allen:

Who else but Kopmeyer?

Jordan Small:

Where do you even start with Kopmeyer? She has been amazing all year. I mean looking at the game vs. Chicago this weekend, it seemed as if all the tweets from Seattle were about saves from Kop. The girl is having herself a year. She is definitely embracing this starter gig.

RJ Allen:

She has 38 saves this year according to the NWSL stats. She had 34 all of 2016 with her 11 games. So already she is putting in more work with a backline that, frankly, should be better than how they are playing.

Jordan Small:

You and I both would love to see her with the NT but for some reason it just isn’t happening. It’s frustrating.

RJ Allen:

It is. She has more than proved at this point that she has room for growth. She has the size, frankly something the US hasn’t always had on their side, she reads the game beautifully, she is vocal, she is athletic but doesn’t overcompensate with it. I don’t understand the lack of attention.

Jordan Small:

And she learned from the best.

I just hope she keeps proving Jill Ellis wrong and continues to get better.

RJ Allen:

I really think we haven’t seen her best soccer yet. Which with how she is playing is something big to say.

Jordan Small:

There are a few areas that I think she can improve on and if she does, it’ll be scary for other teams in the league.


Final Thoughts

RJ Allen:

We’ve talked about our top five, Jordan, any final thoughts as we look back at the first 8 weeks of the 2017 NWSL season?

Jordan Small: 

A cool stat that I found today is that 11 different goalkeepers have shutouts this season. I love great goalkeeping and I love seeing goalkeepers get clean sheets. It has been really exciting so far.

RJ Allen:

I really think the goalkeeping in the league has taken a giant step forward this season. Each game now I’m expecting goalkeepers to have big games. And often times I’m not disappointed.

Jordan Small: 

Even the goalkeepers that struggled at the beginning of the season have improved. That is great for the league.

RJ Allen:

It really is.

So, what do you say? Revisit the wonders of goalkeeping say around week 16?

Jordan Small: 

If it was anything like the first 8 weeks, it should be fun!


Thank you everyone for reading. You can catch Jordan and I talking about the great goalkeeping in the league and more every Monday at 8 pm ET on YouTube. The feed is also up on iTunes, Podbean and Spreaker

One thought on “A Conversation on Goalkeeping: The Top 5 NWSL Keepers of the First Third

Comments are closed.