The signature touchstones of Major League Soccer’s 2012 playoffs to this point have included big weather, big upsets and big performance from the men guarding goal.
So let’s look quickly at the foursome of starting backstoppers remaining as the teams make final prep for today’s conference finals opening legs. In fact, let’s rank them:
1. Seattle’s Sounders Michael Gspurning: The veteran Austrian was among the league’s best this year, even edging Kansas City’s Jimmy Nielsen for best goals-against average (0.73). More than the numbers, of course, he’s essentially been a rock of stability behind a defense that’s only been stable-ish.
His performance in the series against Real Salt Lake was flawless, even if we talked more about the other fellow, Real Salt Lake’s Nick Rimando, whose exceptional night in Seattle overshadowed Gspurning’s good work. Still, he’s been everything they need.
2. Houston’s Tally Hall: The playoffs have never been a problem for Hall, who is still in only his second year as an MLS starter. Houston’s big 2011 playoff run began with Hall’s remarkable 10-save performance as the Dynamo upset Philadelphia at PPL Park. (That was his first post-season match; not bad, eh?)
This year, Hall has done little wrong in allowing two goals in three matches. One bad choice to hurry out of goal got dicey in the Dynamo win over Sporting K.C. in Houston, but he’s generally been squeaky clean otherwise.
3. L.A. Galaxy’s Josh Saunders: The Galaxy was clearly better in 2012 with their starting man in goal, having suffered measurably as Saunders missed a chunk in mid-season due to personal reasons. Down the stretch, however, the 31-year-old Oregonian has not been at his best. There has been a wobble here and there, and then we all saw that ball he let wiggle free against San Jose. In the end, it didn’t crater the Galaxy playoff ambitions, but it certainly can’t add to the stores of confidence for Saunders (or his teammates).
4. D.C. United’s Bill Hamid / Joe Willis: Hamid, United’s young starter, is struggling. So perhaps it’s just as well that Willis, Hamid’s young backup (although not quite as young) will guard goal today as Hamid sits out his mandatory one-game red card suspension. (Oh, and never Tweet while angry, young man. It’s unbecoming, and you should know better.)