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A Philadelphia Union blog hosted by Christopher A. Vito and Matthew De George

Friday, August 21, 2015

Four's company: Union on the brink of goalkeeping history

Could John McCarthy be headed to the bench for Andre Blake?
Jim Curtin didn't rule it out Thursday. (Times Staff/TOM KELLY IV)
It should shock no one to state that the Philadelphia Union have an ignominious goalkeeping history. So it’s not surprising that the Union are on the verge of another inglorious distinction between the posts, potentially this weekend.

Jim Curtin strongly hinted Thursday at his weekly press conference that Andre Blake could be in line for his season debut Saturday against Montreal. The timing would seem to be right: Blake is recovered from surgeries on both knees in January, then May. He’ll leave for international duty with Jamaica for a two-leg tie with Nicaragua in the third round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying Sept. 4 and 8.

Here’s what Curtin had to say:

“We’re thinking about it. We’ll make a decision. Andre’s been called in to Jamaica three weeks from now, so there’s a possibility that it makes sense to give him a game or two.”

If Curtin plays the same loyalty card he did last year with Zac MacMath, it may be that he’s deemed John McCarthy as having earned the start in the Sept. 30 Open Cup final. That would position McCarthy to play a couple of games in late September to stay sharp.

In the meantime, Brian Sylvestre is on the shelf until his oft-reaggravated hand injury is fully healed. When the subject was broached two weeks ago, Curtin declared McCarthy the starter in Orlando. There was no such openness this week. Curtin also failed to conceal his disappointment with McCarthy in Sunday’s 3-3 draw with Chicago.

“Well, the game, not happy with how we executed at that 2-1, we had a lot of chances to get the third goal,” was how Curtin started his postgame press address. “Sean Johnson obviously had a very good night. He had a lot of key saves, a lot of big saves to keep them in it. I think we gave up four shots on goal and three goals. So, again, you know, you work so hard, you finally break through and get a goal.”

Add it up and it seems simple: Sylvestre is out, McCarthy’s stock is down, so Blake could get a shot for what would be just the 2014 No. 1 overall MLS SuperDraft pick’s second career league start.

Now for the historical part: Blake would be the fourth Union goalie to start in MLS this season, if you remember all the way back to the dark (potentially soon terminated?) days of Rais M’Bolhi.


That doesn’t happen often. In fact, it’ll be just the second time in five seasons it’s occurred in MLS.

Here’s a little perspective:

- Since the league was founded 20 years ago, only 18 teams have used four or more goalies in a single season (position players included).

- Only nine MLS teams have had four or more goalies start MLS games in a single season.

- Should Blake start more than once, as Curtin indicated is possible, then the Union would join the seven MLS teams to have four or more goalies each make more than one start.

To be clear, this year’s Union squad will have to conjure up some serious disarray to make history: Four MLS teams have started five goalies in a season, so there’s still distance to goalkeeping rock bottom. That standard is held by the inaugural Toronto FC team in 2007, which started five goalies, only one of which (Greg Sutton) ever played another MLS game. That’s impressive incompetence.

Lest we draw any comparisons as to the competitive value of a goalkeeping carousel, it’s worth noting that four of the previous nine teams to start four or more goalies made the playoffs. Three of those came before 2000 in the league’s first four seasons, when 80 percent (in ’96 and ’97) or 67 percent (in ’99) of the league qualified for the playoffs. Only one team, the 2011 Red Bulls, have made the playoffs with four or more starting goalies in the last 15 years. A much better predictor is that three of the nine teams have finished last in their conference. The fact that D.C. United started four goalies yet captured the Supporters’ Shield/MLS Cup double is 1997 is remarkable.

Oddly, eight of the nine most unsettled goalkeeping situations hail from the Eastern Conference.

Here’s the full list of team to start four or more goalies in a season (indicates playoffs made):

Five goalies started

2011 New York Red Bulls (Bouna Coundoul 11 starts, Frank Rost 11, Greg Sutton 10, Alex Horwath 1, Chris Konopka 1); finished fifth in Eastern Conference

2007 Toronto FC (Kenny Stamatopoulos 12 starts, Greg Sutton 8, Srdijan Djekanovic 7, Sam Reynolds 2, David Monsalve 1); finished last in East

2006 Columbus Crew (Bill Gaudette 11 starts, Noah Palmer 10, Jon Busch 8, Andy Gruenebaum 2, Dan Popik 1); finished last in East

1998 Miami Fusion (Jeff Cassar 21 starts, Matt Napoleon 4, David Winner 3, Scott Budnick 3, Bill Andracki 1); finished fourth in East

Four goalies started

2009 D.C. United (Josh Wicks 19 starts, Louis Crayton 6, Milos Kocic 3, Steve Cronin 2); finished fourth in East

2005 Columbus Crew (Jonny Walker 16 starts, Jon Busch 9, Bill Gaudette 5, Matt Jordan 2); finished last in East

1999 Kansas City Wizards (Chris Snitko 15 starts, Tony Meola 9, David Winner 7, Cesar Delgado 1); finished last in West

1997 D.C. United (Scott Garlick 13, Mark Simpson 7, Tom Presthus 7, Jeff Causey 5); finished first in East, won Supporters Shield and MLS Cup

1996 Columbus Crew (Bo Oshoniyi 13 starts, Brad Freidel 9, David Winner 7, Pat Harrington 4), finished fourth in East

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