By Kyle McCarthy
Goalkeepers always find a way to attract attention.
Chalk it up to the unique dynamic of a position where flying around with complete disregard for personal safety comprises the primary job description and determining failure and success rarely requires more than a glance toward the scoreboard. As if the required acrobatics weren't enough to grab the spotlight, the binary nature of goalkeeping – play or sit, goal or save – creates conflicts, inflames passions and restricts opportunities.
With the MLS preseason well underway, a few clubs are waging internal goalkeeping battles worthy of external notice. The Friday Five directs its focus to a few of the more intriguing tussles:
1. Kansas City parts with Kevin Hartman. The 35-year-old veteran provided a dependable goalkeeping option for the past three seasons, but Hartman and the Wizards couldn't find common ground on a new contract. The impasse led the sides to part ways and opened up the number one slot to a new pair of hands. Wizards manager Peter Vermes evaluated Louis Crayton and Ian Walker before signing Danish goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen last week. The peculiar nature of the move – paying a small transfer fee to former club Vejle BK, offering a decent pay packet and committing to a foreign goalkeeper while in need of international spots to import several other foreign players – means Nielsen is the leader in the clubhouse for the starting spot. Vermes praised Crayton's training camp contributions and the former United keeper remains an option, but his citizenship (Liberian-Swiss) and Eric Kronberg's new contract may impact his chances. As for Hartman, the veteran keeper is being shopped around the league as he searches for a new club, according to 100 Percent Soccer.
2. New York ponders whether to acquire an experienced veteran. Red Bulls sporting director Erik Soler's tinkering suggests he isn't entirely pleased with his goalkeeping options. Former Toronto FC starter Greg Sutton arrived in camp early and hasn't departed yet, while Danny Cepero found his way to the waiver wire after falling out of favor last season. Bouna Coundoul remains the projected number one as the Red Bulls weigh whether Sutton or another pair of veteran hands – European reports have persistently linked New York with a move for Eintracht Frankfurt goalkeeper Oka Nikolov in the summer, but FC Dallas holds his discovery rights – could provide a calmer, more consistent presence between the sticks.
3. Philly evaluates two young keepers. Union manager Peter Nowak grabbed New England backup Brad Knighton in the expansion draft and shipped a tidy sum to Real Salt Lake to acquire Chris Seitz to stock his goalkeeping pool. Nowak has said both players will compete for the starting gig with Seitz the overwhelming favorite to claim the job. The talent gap between the two players isn't as wide as one might expect considering the ample hype surrounding the former U.S. Olympic team starter, so Seitz will have to perform well in preseason to ward off Knighton's challenge.
4. Chivas USA juggles its veteran options. Zach Thornton remains the unquestioned number one after winning goalkeeper of the year honors last season, but the 36-year-old has struggled with niggling injuries since last summer. Thornton's recent withdrawal from U.S. national team camp after suffering a strained hip flexor highlights the importance of the backup role in the striped half of Carson. Jon Conway holds the edge in experience after his days as a starter in New York, while Dan Kennedy may have won the starting gig over Thornton last year had he not torn ligaments in his right knee last March. The two keepers have alternated so far during preseason, so the backup assignment appears undecided right now. The loser of that battle may end up out of a job unless Chivas USA coach Martin Vasquez opts to use three senior roster spots on goalkeepers. Lance Parker could have provided a cheaper and younger option on the developmental roster, but the Red-and-White cut him loose last week after four jittery appearances in 2009.
5. D.C. United releases a prospect. United believed Milos Kocic could develop into its goalkeeper of the future when it plucked him out of Loyola (Md.) in the second round of the 2009 MLS SuperDraft. Kocic participated in United's goalkeeping merry-go-round last season and played in four matches, but he entered 2010 facing an uphill battle to make the roster due to a handful of shaky showings and a series of circumstances outside of his control. United needs foreign player slots badly and simply couldn't afford to spend one of its precious seven berths on a third-string goalkeeper from Serbia. Bill Hamid's arrival at the tail end of last season and his elevation to the roster to start 2010 also hastened Kocic's departure. Former academy goalkeeper Hamid will have plenty of time to develop as the third choice behind established number one Troy Perkins and the currently injured number two Josh Wicks.
Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSnet.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.
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