At the precipice of MLS regular season action, Tony picks the league’s top goalkeepersLast year, this column tracked MLS goalkeepers’ performances and started the debate as to who would win the Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year award. Recipient Jimmy Nielsen of Sporting Kansas City topped my watch list more times than not in 2012, and he will continue to hold that position in my preseason rankings.
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|1. Jimmy Nielsen, Sporting Kansas City
Just like any other cup or award out there, it is anyone’s to win at the start of the season. That said, Nielsen will remain at the top of the class until the field can match his form. All signs point to the Danish goalkeeper keeping the net clean in March, as four of KC’s five matches in the month will be against non-playoff teams, including three of the bottom six in scoring last year (Toronto, Philadelphia, and New England).
|2. Nick Rimando, Real Salt Lake
Nick Rimando put together a great season for RSL in 2012, as the team finished second in the West and only conceded 35 regular-season goals, good enough for third in the league. Rimando, who was recently left off the roster for the U.S. national team, will be motivated to get back in Jurgen Klinsmann’s favor.
|3. Michael Gspurning, Seattle Sounders
With a season of acclimation under his belt, Michael Gspurning should be more comfortable between the pipes and bring stability to Seattle in its push for the MLS Cup. Seattle’s 33 allowed goals last season was second fewest in the league. Gspurning will be tested off the bat with March competitions against Portland, San Jose and Salt Lake.
|4. Sean Johnson, Chicago Fire
Beginning his fourth MLS campaign, Sean Johnson is an emerging keeper with big expectations. His recent inclusion in the national team picture leads me to believe he will continue to grow in confidence and leadership for his MLS side, which secured a playoff berth in 2012, finishing in the four spot. Chicago will be tested early into its campaign against the Galaxy and Sporting KC.
|5. Tally Hall, Houston Dynamo
With an All-Star appearance and a trip to MLS Cup in 2012, Tally Hall will be looking to solidify his position as one of the most reliable goalkeepers in MLS. For the national team, Hall had a good January camp to start the year, and he will be aiming to get back into the international mix. Houston is another team that has a challenging March with D.C., Dallas, Vancouver and San Jose to kick off the year.
|Dark Horse: Bill Hamid, D.C. United
Looking to make a statement this year, Bill Hamid is a guy who has enormous potential to be the best. It looks like he might be out of the national team conversation for now, but being the odd man out may be the motivation Hamid needs to quiet his skeptics. We haven’t seen the last of this guy by a long shot. Houston, Salt Lake, New York and Columbus are the first to challenge Hamid and the rest of the United squad at the start of the season.