The Battle of the Backups


With only ten roster spots in the whole league, the position of goalkeeper is, by default, an elite one. Those who start the year in net very rarely relinquish that number one position. However, injuries come and go, making it that much more important to have a quality backup goalkeeper. Three backups have been called upon this year to carry the load while the number one is out with injury.

Boston’s Sammy Jo Prudhomme, North Carolina’s Katelyn Rowland, and Orlando’s Aubrey Bledsoe have each taken the pitch after the starting GKs were sidelined with injuries. Over their time in net, all three have shown that they have the potential to be a full-time starter. The coaches now face a difficult decision. Do you start your number one once they’re healthy again? Or do you stick with the hot hand? Well, here is the case behind why all three goalkeepers should continue to start, even when the number ones are healthy again.

As far as I’m concerned? All three backup goalkeepers should continue to start, even when their number ones are healthy again, and here’s why. 

Sammy Jo Prudhomme

The rookie out of the University of Southern California got her first minutes in the NWSL three weeks ago after starter Abby Smith was forced out with a knee injury. Despite making her professional debut, Prudhomme looked calm, cool and collected as she faced off against one of the most potent offenses in the league–the North Carolina Courage. In three games she’s played so far, Prudhomme has allowed just one goal with two shutouts. That gives her a goals-against average of 0.3. Not bad for a rookie.

The one factor against her right now is that Abby Smith seems to be on Jill Ellis’ radar for the U.S. national team. It’s very unlikely that Ellis would like to see one of her goalkeeper prospects sitting on the bench. However, if Prudhomme keeps up her current level of play, don’t be surprised if she gets a look from Ellis as well. 

Katelyn Rowland

Sabrina D’Angelo looked like a shoo-in for goalkeeper of the year through the first two months of the season. Then June hit and Rowland got her start in net. It appeared as if it was just to give D’Angelo a rest before the two upcoming friendlies for Canada that she had been called up to. When in camp, it was reported D’Angelo was walking around on crutches, leaving Courage fans very worried about their starting goalkeeper. Rowland has now started in five of the past six games, racking up four wins in five games including three shutouts.

Rowland is one of the best goalkeepers in the US in her age group and often gloved up for the U.S. U-20 team. After bouncing around a few different teams, it appears Rowland is finally getting her time to shine in North Carolina. Her command over the backline is very good right now and that is shown in her 0.4 goals-against average.

For North Carolina, it just doesn’t make sense to mess with a hot goalkeeper right now. How many teams would want to have two solid starting quality goalkeepers? It’s a good problem to have. Paul Riley will have an interesting decision to make in the coming weeks as D’Angelo gets ready to return.

Aubrey Bledsoe

When Ashlyn Harris went down in the 26th minute against Seattle, Orlando Pride fans hearts sank. Their captain and starting goalkeeper would be out for six-to-eight weeks with a quad strain. Unlike the other two goalkeepers mentioned before, Bledsoe was forced to step in with a pretty good idea of just how long she would be the number one. After six weeks, Bledsoe has helped her team pick up three more points than Harris did in the same amount of time.

For Bledsoe, her case to remain the starter is probably the weakest. With almost identical numbers to Harris in the same amount of games, it is hard to argue either way who should be the starter once Harris is healthy. The downside for Bledsoe is that Harris’ leadership qualities are hard to overlook and as captain, Harris will probably be inserted back in. The best thing for Bledsoe to do in the weeks that remain for her is to continue to get better and make the case for remaining the starter. It’s just very difficult to see head coach Tom Sermanni sticking with Bledsoe when Harris is healthy.

For Rowland, it appears as if the job is hers to lose at this point. The other two will have to put up a serious fight to keep that number one spot. As we approach the halfway point in the season, a little friendly competition in the goalkeeping world would be very interesting to keep an eye on.