Ranking the Top 7 MLS Goalkeepers in the 2021 Season
Major League Soccer has seen its share of tremendous goalkeepers over 26 seasons.
United States men's national team legends Tim Howard and Tony Meola are among the great goalkeepers who honed their craft in the league.
All-time saves, wins and shutouts leader Nick Rimando was a fixture on USMNT rosters during his time at Real Salt Lake, D.C. United and the Miami Fusion as well.
The current wave of top netminders is led by a full international, but one who plays for another nation in CONCACAF.
Andre Blake of the Philadelphia Union and Jamaica won his second Goalkeeper of the Year award in 2020, and he looks like the front-runner to claim the honor again in 2021.
Two other full internationals in the Eastern Conference will have a say in that discussion. Orlando City's Pedro Gallese (Peru) and Columbus' Eloy Room (Curacao) are off to strong starts once again.
While most of the top goalkeepers in the 2021 season are familiar names, there is one surprise emerging as a potential game-changer in Los Angeles.
To qualify for the list, goalkeepers had to start in at least five games so far this season. Most teams have played seven or eight matches. That means Sporting Kansas City's Tim Melia and Portland's Jeff Attinella, two of the league top-tier goalies, were left off the list.
7. Stefan Frei, Seattle Sounders
Stefan Frei met the minimum criteria for games by starting on five occasions before going down with an injury.
Frei ranks first in goals against average among goalkeepers who made at least five starts this season. He conceded twice on 18 shots against.
The 35-year-old has been one of the key players in Seattle's dominant reign. His most notable denial in a Sounders shirt came in the 2016 MLS Cup Final on Jozy Altidore.
The two-time MLS Cup winner has had a GAA under 1.1 in three of the last four seasons, and he appears to be on that track once he gets healthy.
Prior to the league's two-week break, Sounders manager Brian Schmetzer revealed Frei developed a blood clot in his sprained knee, per MLS Soccer's Ari Liljenwall.
"Regarding Stef's injury, he had a complication because of the injury he suffered against San Jose and he actually developed a blood clot, and so what happened is we're going to be very careful. It's obviously a little bit more serious than just a sprained knee," he said.
Stefan Cleveland conceded a single goal over three games in Frei's absence.
6. Jonathan Bond, LA Galaxy
One of the newest members of the MLS goalkeepers union was the talk of the league in the last matchweek before the break.
Jonathan Bond made 12 saves in the Los Angeles Galaxy's win over the San Jose Earthquakes to boost him to the top of the save table.
Of course, there is some recency bias to put Bond on the list, but he has been strong all season in Greg Vanney's first year as head coach.
Bond, who came to the Galaxy from West Bromwich Albion, leads the league with 41 saves and is fourth behind Frei, Gallese and Blake in save percentage for goalkeepers who played in five or more games.
The apparent easy transition made by Bond from not playing at West Brom to starting in MLS has been one of the best stories from the first two months of league play.
5. Joe Willis, Nashville
It is hard for a goalkeeper to fly under the radar for a season-and-a-half.
Nashville SC's Joe Willis has somehow done that behind one of the league's toughest defenses.
The 32-year-old is one of four goalkeepers with five or more starts who has a clean sheet percentage above 50 percent. Frei, Blake and Gallese (sense a theme here?) are the other three.
Willis has made far fewer saves than the other top netminders. He has 10 stops on 15 shots, but he has been reliable in net when called upon.
If Willis keeps up his current form, he could put together back-to-back seasons with a GAA under one for the first time in his career. He debuted with D.C. United in 2011.
Part of that success can be credited to the defense the Nashville SC staff built around Willis, including 2020 Defender of the Year Walker Zimmerman, but the goalkeeper still has to make saves in critical moments, and Willis has done that in his Tennessee tenure.
4. Eloy Room, Columbus
Room was chosen as the successor for Zack Steffen in Columbus during the summer of 2019.
The level of quality has not dropped off from the United States men's national team No. 1 to Curacao's top shot-stopper.
Room earned his contract through a stunning performance for Curacao at the 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup, and he has been a rock in between the sticks since his arrival in Columbus. He is on pace to turn in a better GAA than the 0.89 he posted in Columbus' MLS Cup–winning season a year ago.
The 32-year-old opened the MLS season with back-to-back clean sheets, and he conceded multiple tallies once in seven starts.
Room will have an opportunity to replicate his strong Gold Cup performance from two years ago in July. Curacao was slotted into Group A against Mexico, El Salvador and a team from the early July qualifying games.
3. Matt Turner, New England
With Steffen and other European-based USMNT players likely missing out on the 2021 Gold Cup due to preseason commitments, Matt Turner could be the American No. 1 this summer.
The 26-year-old pushed himself on to the USMNT radar through a few good seasons for some mediocre New England squads before Bruce Arena took over as manager in May 2019.
Turner recently played his 100th game in MLS and he is on pace to hit career bests in GAA and save percentage. His current career best in GAA in a season with 20 or more starts was last season. He recorded his best save percentage in the season prior to that.
Turner turned away 22 of the 28 shots sent in his direction, and he has a 78.6 save percentage to go along with his five victories.
The play of Turner combined with the attacking capabilities of Carles Gil and Gustavo Bou has made the Revolution one of the early favorites to take home the MLS Cup in 2021.
2. Pedro Gallese, Orlando City
An argument can be made that Gallese is one of the most important signings in Orlando City history.
The arrival of the Peruvian goalkeeper and head coach Oscar Pareja for the 2020 season helped turn the club's fortunes around.
The Lions look to be in position to land their second consecutive postseason berth. They did not finish higher than seventh place in the Eastern Conference in their first five seasons.
Gallese currently leads MLS in goals against per 90 minutes among goalkeepers that played all of their team's matches. Frei is slightly ahead of Gallese if he expands the qualifiers for that total.
Gallese has helped the Lions put up the best defensive totals in the Eastern Conference. They conceded four times in seven games. Seattle is the only team with a lower number of concessions.
"El Pulpo" will miss some time in the coming weeks due to Peru's participation in the Copa America. Peru is grouped with Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador in the group stage.
1. Andre Blake, Philadelphia
The reigning Goalkeeper of the Year does not appear ready to give up his throne.
Blake has already turned in five performances with four or more saves in MLS play and he was one of the main reasons why the Union advanced to the semifinals of the Concacaf Champions League.
The 30-year-old Jamaican can be found everywhere on the goalkeeping stat list. He ranks in the top five in saves, save percentage, GAA per 90, wins and clean sheets.
Blake is the only goalkeeper in MLS to have five shutouts in 2021. He produced four of them in the last five games in which the Union went 4-0-1 following their advancement to the CCL semifinals.
Blake is not expected to play the full 34-game slate because of his international commitments, but even that should not hinder his placement among the stat leaders by the end of the regular season.
He turned in four seasons with six or more clean sheets in the last five years while managing international commitments. His GAA has not gone over 1.6 in that span and he is coming off a career-best 0.86 GAA in 2020.
Blake is expected to miss a few weeks in July while at the Gold Cup. Jamaica should advance of Group C with Costa Rica, Suriname and a team to be determined.
Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.
Statistics obtained from FBRef.com.