Vito Mannone

Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

1-on-1 with Vito Mannone, 2019 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year

Leave a comment

Vito Mannone is one of the nice guys, so there are only good vibes in announcing that the Minnesota United goalkeeper has been named the 2019 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year after an outstanding season with the Loons.

The 31-year-old Italian was a revelation after arriving on loan from Reading in England’s Football League Championship, the latest stop in a career which has seen him play for Arsenal in the Champions League and spearhead several big seasons for Sunderland in the Premier League.

[ MORE: One-on-one with Chris Wondolowski ]

Mannone’s 73 saves from inside the box and 136 total saves were both third in MLS as was his 11 clean sheets in a season which saw the Loons claim their first MLS playoff spot in three seasons and make a run to the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final. He’s just the second MLS Goalkeeper of the Year to hail from outside of a CONCACAF nation.

PST had a chance to speak to Mannone for a wide-ranging conversation on not just his incredible season, but his feelings of responsibility to be a contributor to his community and the gratitude he feels to be a professional athlete. From emotionally crediting his parents to a funny story about former Arsenal teammate and current LAFC star Carlos Vela, Mannone is an absolute joy in conversation.

ProSoccerTalk: Vito, congratulations on a wonderful season. First things first, what does the award mean to you?

Vito Mannone: “I didn’t expect it in a way, but it’s an incredible feeling. You always work so hard to achieve something like this and it’s an award that rewards me, the work I put in throughout my career. It’s a special one, special moment.”

ProSoccerTalk: There are a lot of worthy on-field topics, and we’ll get to them, but I want to talk about your focus off the field. I read someone on Twitter call you “the nicest guy in football.” You clearly care about how you treat people and your purpose.

VM: “I grew up with special parents and they ingrained in me great values in general in my life. I learned everything from my dad and my mom. They were special people, not just to me but to everyone. That’s how I was raised. I always cared about other people, them first.

“The football platform gives you the chance to give back to people. Anywhere I go I try to give my best to my fans and people who support you in your job. It’s fantastic, you don’t get that in many other jobs.

We are very very lucky to have thousands of people working hard during the week to come and watch you and support you in good and bad moments. The minimum required is to give something back to them.

“Outside of football it’s something I want to do. It fills my heart but at the same time people will look at you and appreciate what you do for them. It extends in a way to connect to poor people, people with health problems. When I go out to hospitals, I always feel I’m very lucky and in a privileged situation.”

PST: It’s interesting that you mention that because for all of your accomplishments — Champions League with Arsenal, season-saving saves with Sunderland — I remember being particularly touched by something you did off the field, as Jermain Defoe and you spent time with ailing Bradley Lowery while he battled cancer, raising money and awareness.

VM: “We are very lucky and I always see myself like any of these kids, I put myself in their shoes because I was a kid full of dreams and I’m lucky that I made it but these kids or ones with problems or fighting really hard to be alive, I know a kid is full of dreams and loves football like we do. That’s why I really want to connect with them.

“Bradley was a prime example. He did so much in general for people who got to know his story. You could see this guy with a smile who would change your day, and you realize your small problems in life are nothing compared to one of these kids.”

PST: “I want to go a little deeper because I’m someone whose paid a lot of attention to the Northeast of England and, don’t get mad, but I grew up watching Newcastle. When you see something like Bradley’s story and the Sunderland connection, it makes it so much bigger than football. It brings a sense of community that extends beyond the field and our little allegiances. Did you have any role models in football who helped you find your way in the community?

VM: “My role model in life in general and in football was my dad, who unfortunately I lost when I was 16. It was a tough task to become a professional without him. He always dreamt with me and he sacrificed his life to get me where I am today and to have a nice career so far and become a professional. I would say my dad. He was my role model.

“And then there’s many good people in general in football. You always want more of these people in your life in football. You mentioned Jermain, he’s one of them, but anywhere I can go I can find people who see it the same.

“In football there is so much violence, now we see racism, we see people using football in the wrong way but I think as well as you mention these moments, these stories like Bradley or many others behind the scenes, kids who are examples, it brings football together. It makes you realize it’s not hate, it’s not violence, there’s nothing that goes above these stories.”

PST: On the field, this season… Remarkable. When a player comes to MLS and he comes with a resume like yours, you expect the player to have a decent season but I don’t know that we could’ve expected to see a goalie play as well as you did while adjusting to a new culture and country on a pretty new team. What would you say about the season?

VM: “Tremendous journey. Tremendous adventure. In general I loved every minute of it. It’s always tough when you change countries. You bring your family out in a new place. It’s never easy, not an easy job, but I had a feeling from the first chat I had with the club, I felt like it was a good project. As soon as I landed here, they treated me with respect and they showed me I was an important piece of the puzzle.

“Opening a new stadium, meeting news fans everything went really well. We started to climb and we got better and better. We molded as a team, new players, youngsters with veterans, and we had a magnificent cup run. The third year for this club in MLS. We reached the playoffs. We beat big clubs. We had an amazing season in a new stadium with special fans. Everything has been fantastic. If I go back (to Europe), I had a few objectives coming here and I successfully fulfilled all my dreams, also becoming Goalkeeper of the Year. You cannot ask for more.”

(Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

PST: Well, you brought it up… have you thought a lot about what’s next for you?

VM: “No, this season has just finished and I put 100 percent into it until the very last minute. We were unfortunate not to go through against Galaxy and it’s a bit of pain. But I can’t take anything away from the great season. I want to relax, sit down, see my options. I just talked to the club and it’s a good situation right now. I want to sit down with my agent, talk with my family, and see where we can go from here.”

PST: Overseas you had a number of American teammates in your career. Matt Miazga for a bit last year at Reading, Jozy Altidore at Sunderland. You’ve had plenty of career to evaluate American soccer. After a year in MLS, what’s your evaluation of soccer in America?

VM: “Until you get here, you can’t get the true feeling of what the American league is building. This league has great potential and in a few years, it will be there. Progressing really well. Incredible fans, stadiums everywhere you go. Facilities, every club I’ve been around this season has been fantastic and it’s far ahead of many many European clubs.

“What they need to get is keep going, keep building up history, and of course what I can tell you the difference is the standard of the football has been very high. I was impressed, good mix of South Americans, international from Europe, the big stars in Rooney, Ibrahimovic, Vela, my home friend Sagna, but these people want to embrace the league more and more.

“I had this impression from Europe of a retirement league, but it’s not, it’s not! It’s young players, talented players, good ones from America. Every team I faced was a challenge for me and now a days the market is changing — Almiron to Newcastle — it’s going both ways. One time it wasn’t like this. People going to England, to Italy, and coming out here too, it’s different. This will build up and get even better and better.”

PST: Who impressed you the most in MLS, both on your team and opposition?

VM: Let me think about that it’s difficult. Teammates… I’ve been really impressed with youngsters like Hassani Dotson, Chase Gasper, Mason Toye, who came into the first team and are going to be big hits for U.S. national team one day. They have got quality and are good professional, surely yes. I had very good teammates in general. Many good players around, LAFC we all know what they did. My old friend Carlos (Vela), ha, he’s been on fire.

PST: How well did you know him at Arsenal?

VM: “We spent two years as a teammates. He was a youngster too and didn’t have his best time but progressed in his career. He had one of the best years, breaking the MLS record. He’s probably going to MVP and deservedly so.”

PST: Did he get break the record against you, or tie it? That’s a real jerk move!

VM: “Actually, the one to level the record (the penultimate game of the season). We texted each other before the game. I told him don’t worry about the record. You’ll score a hat trick in the last game but zero against me. He said, no no no, one against you and three in the last game, and actually he did it! I called it, so he needs to thank me.”

PST: Thanks for being so generous with your time and congratulations again. It seems you’ve always been in the news for good reasons, like wanting to avoid relegation for the behind the scenes people at Sunderland. It feels good to see you get an award.

 

VM: “Thank you, thank you very much.”

 

MLS Goalkeepers of the Year
1996 – Mark Dodd (Dallas Burn)
1997 – Brad Friedel (Columbus Crew)
1998 – Zach Thornton (Chicago Fire)
1999 – Kevin Hartman (LA Galaxy)
2000 – Tony Meloa (Kansas City Wizards)
2001 – Tim Howard (NY-NJ MetroStars)
2002 – Joe Cannon (San Jose Earthquakes)
2003 – Pat Onstad (San Jose Earthquakes)
2004 – Joe Cannon (Colorado Rapids)
2005 – Pat Onstad San Jose Earthquakes)
2006 – Troy Perkins (DC United)
2007 – Brad Guzan (Chivas USA)
2008 – Jon Busch (Chicago Fire)
2009 – Zach Thornton (Chivas USA)
2010 – Donovan Ricketts (LA Galaxy)
2011 – Kasey Keller (Seattle Sounders)
2012 – Jimmy Nielsen (Sporting KC)
2013 – Donovan RIcketts (Portland Timbers)
2014 – Bill Hamid (DC United)
2015 – Luis Robles (New York Red Bulls)
2016 – Andre Blake (Philadelphia Union)
2017 – Tim Melia (Sporting KC)
2018 – Zack Steffen (Columbus Crew)
2019 – Vito Mannone (Minnesota United)

Top MLS Newcomers ahead of the 2019 season

Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Leave a comment

A handful of Major League Soccer sides are active in the CONCACAF Champions League, but all of the boys are back it this weekend with the start of the 2019 MLS league campaign.

[ RECAP: Liverpool 5-0 Watford ]

With a new season comes a lot of new faces. Here are five players to watch closely over the first few weeks of the season (Well, four… and one to most likely watch come April).

Alejandro Pozuelo, Toronto FC* — The asterisks is our assumption that the Pozuelo move happens, with TFC reportedly splashing big cash in both salary and transfer fee to bring the 27-year-old from Genk at the end of the Jupiler Pro League’s regular season. Pozuelo has 7 goals and 18 assists between league play and the Europa League which is… pretty darn good.

Pity Martinez, Atlanta United — A 25-year-old attacker recently capped by Argentina, Pity starred in both matches of the Club World Cup for River Plate and has the potential to be the next big thing… and maybe not just in MLS.

Emmanuel Ledesma, FC Cincinnati — The former Middlesbrough man is deadly on set pieces and absolutely torched USL defenses last season. There’s little reason to think his production will drop off dramatically despite the jump in competitive levels.

Vito Mannone, Minnesota United — It’s difficult to put a goalkeeper on this list, but the Loons bringing Mannone into the side while also having veteran Bobby Shuttleworth and SuperDraft pick Dayne St. Clair on the books is a statement in itself. Mannone was not the reason Sunderland was relegated a few years, and was the picture of class in trying to help the Black Cats stay up.

Carles Gil, New England Revolution — At 26 and coming to our shores from Deportivo de la Coruna after a brief but interesting spell at Aston Villa, he’s one of the litmus tests on display this season in MLS.

Honorable mention: Alexandru Mitrita, New York City FC; Terrence Boyd, Toronto FC; Marco Fabian, Philadelphia Union; Orji Okwonkwo, Montreal Impact; Hwang in-Boem, Vancouver Whitecaps.

Report: Minnesota United turning to ex-Sunderland GK Mannone

Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The goalkeeping competition at Minnesota United was set to be very interesting, with longtime MLS backstop Bobby Shuttleworth and promising rookie Dayne St. Clair joined by a third keep.

The potential identify of that third one makes the competition a little less open.

[ MORE: Man City favored by oddsmakers ]

The Loons will reportedly add former Arsenal and Sunderland backstop Vito Mannone on loan from Reading, says The Athletic’s Jeff Rueter.

Mannone, 30, is behind Emiliano Martinez — on loan from Arsenal — and journeyman Sam Walker has been No. 2 in recent weeks.

The keeper was a bright light for Sunderland in its relegation season two years ago, backing the club from top-to-bottom and staying very active in the community.

David de Gea ties PL record for single-match saves vs. Arsenal

Julian Finney/Getty Images
Leave a comment

He made how many saves?

[ MORE: A look back at Saturday’s action from around the Premier League ]

David De Gea has been widely considered one of the top goalkeepers in the world for several seasons now, and the Spanish international proved once again exactly why he’s such a hot commodity.

Despite Manchester United coming away with a 3-1 win over Arsenal on Saturday at the Emirates Stadium, the Red Devils were forced to defend for their lives throughout the encounter.

That’s where De Gea figured into the picture.

The 27-year-old made 14 saves on the day against the Gunners, equalling Tim Krul and Vito Mannone‘s joint record in the Premier League era.

Krul’s mark came while he was the starting keeper with Newcastle in 2013 against Tottenham, while Mannone did so the following the year against Chelsea.

This season, De Gea hadn’t made more than seven saves in a match, which came against Chelsea on Nov. 5.

According to Opta’s information, De Gea, Krul and Mannone hold the most saves in a top-flight match dating back to the 2003/04 season. No goalkeeping data exists prior to that season.

Sunderland’s Defoe, Mannone pay visit to Bradley Lowery

@Bradleysfight
Leave a comment

Terminally-ill Bradley Lowery has inspired many in the soccer world with his fervent love for Sunderland.

Bradley’s relationship with several Black Cats has warmed many very cold hearts, and Vito Mannone, and Jermain Defoe took some time Thursday to catch up with their ailing little buddy.

[ MORE: Top Premier League storylines ]

And Bradley — who suffers from neuroblastoma — fell asleep, wearing his soccer ball drawers, in the arms of Sunderland’s star striker.

Mannone made a lot of fans last year when he admitted that his relegation fears were more for people who worked for Sunderland than the players. And clearly his heart continues to be in the right place.

Apologies to other relegation candidates, but here’s hoping Sunderland makes Bradley’s year with a run out of the zone.

Fight on, Bradley. Learn more about Bradley’s Fight here.