Take a look at the league's goalkeepers ahead of the start of the season just four days away.Four days from now ... the race for the North American Soccer League 2014 Spring Season title kicks off and each of the NASL teams are in safe hands.
Looking at the statistics, it is the goal scorers who win soccer matches, but coaches will maintain that the men in the firing line protecting the goal are as much match-winners as their headline-grabbing teammates.
With the 2014 NASL season looming, NASL.com takes a look at the men between the sticks charged with keeping clean sheets and giving their teams a shot at victory.
Derby Carrillo comes to the Atlanta Silverbacks from Salvadoran first-division side Santa Tecla FC and has a tough act to follow in popular goalie Joe Nasco, whose saves helped propel the Silverbacks to NASL Soccer Bowl in 2013.
“I know Derby very well from his Cal FC days, and what he has been able to achieve since then is phenomenal,” said Silverbacks technical director Eric Wynalda of the keeper who has since earned two caps for the El Salvador national team. “We know what we’re getting with him on and off the field. He is an international-caliber player and a quality person, so we expect big things from him.”
Akira Fitzgerald returns to the Carolina RailHawks in 2014 for his fifth year with the club. In 2013 he was named Player of the Week on the opening weekend of the Spring Season and he developed a reputation for making spectacular saves on the way to helping the RailHawks remain unbeaten at home throughout 2013.
Fitzgerald began his time playing with the RailHawks U-23s before signing with the professional team in July 2011. Fitzgerald played college soccer at Wake Forest University and is among the university’s all-time goalkeeper leaders in minutes played, goals against average, save percentage and saves.
Lance Parker was the model of consistency as he appeared in 20 matches for FC Edmonton last season and returns to lead a defensive unit that gave up only a goal per game average in 2013.
“We’re glad to have Lance back as never at any time did we want to lose him,” coach Colin Miller said about his No. 1. “He’s an established goalkeeper in the league and he gives us that stability behind the best backline in the NASL.”
Following the end of the loan spell of Richard Sanchez, who back-stopped the Strikers during an impressive unbeaten streak in the fall of 2013, Fort Lauderdale has gone for experience over youth between the posts in 2014.
Oka Nikolov has played for Eintracht Frankfurt of the German Bundesliga for 19 years, signing with the club in 1994, and tallied a total of 414 appearances, including 229 in the German league, while appearing for Macedonia’s national team five teams during his stellar career.
“I am very happy to sign with the club,” said the 39-year-old, 6-foot-2 keeper. “The Fort Lauderdale Strikers have a great history, having seen some great German players such as Gerd Müller play with the club. I want to help the team with my experience and look forward to joining them for their spring campaign.”
Indy Eleven made goalkeeper Kristian Nicht the club’s first-ever signing back in October 2013. A native of the East German city of Jena, Nicht spent his youth with the academy of the most accomplished club in the area, FC Carl Zeiss Jena. Since transitioning to the professional realm, he has made full use of his sizable 6-5 frame for more than a decade, accumulating more than 200 total appearances in that time.
Nicht has won Goalkeeper of the Year honors in both the Bundesliga 2, the second tier of competition in Germany, and, more recently, the USL PRO, the third division in the United States.
“It should be no surprise that a former goalkeeper would begin to build his team around another goalkeeper, but Kristian will be so much more than that for our squad,” said Director of Soccer Operations and head coach Juergen Sommer. “Kristian brings a great deal of experience on the field, but he also brings an attitude, work ethic, and leadership traits that will go a long way in helping the younger members of our roster become better players and better professionals.”
Matt VanOekel casts an imposing figure between the posts for Minnesota United and provides an air of stability for Manny Lagos’s side in 2014. Last season was VanOekel’s fourth year playing in Minnesota after signing with the Minnesota Thunder in 2009.
VanOekel was starting goalkeeper for much of the 2013 NASL season, conceding 18 goals as he played 1,620 minutes and posted two shutouts. The stopper was named to the NASL Team of the Week twice and was selected as NASL Player of the Week once.
Jimmy Maurer provided quality depth last season behind starting goalkeeper, NASL Golden Glove winner Kyle Reynish and now has an opportunity to step into those shoes, or gloves, to make the starting spot his own.
Maurer started the final game of the regular season against Atlanta in Week 14 where he recorded a shutout and was named to the NASL Team of the Week. Prior to his arrival in New York, Maurer played with Universidad de Concepción in the Chilean Primera Division.
“We’re delighted to retain a proven talent such as Jimmy,” said Cosmos head coach Giovanni Savarese. “Last season we felt that we had two number one-caliber starting goalkeepers on our roster. Jimmy gets an opportunity to make the position his own and we feel confident in his ability.”
Devala Gorrick, who played three seasons in the Thai Premier League and spent 2013 with Swedish first-division club IK Frej, has emerged as a contender for Ottawa Fury FC’s starting spot having been a trialist during training camp.
Gorrick has played in the United States, Puerto Rico, Thailand and most recently in Sweden. His career travels has also led to coaching from high-profile keepers including former Swedish international Magnus Hedman and former Tottenham Hotspur and England international Ian Walker. He has featured in more than 100 matches between Air Force United FC (Thailand) and IK Frej.
“Devala wants to succeed in this market and we believe he will bring some experience to our young goalkeepers,” said Fury FC head coach Marc Dos Santos. “We are very confident with the three names that will defend our goal.”
Jeremy Vuolo returns to the San Antonio Scorpions for the 2014 campaign after completing a missionary trip for relief aid in the Philippines after a typhoon struck the island country in the later part of 2013.
The Scorpions first acquired the 6-foot-3 Philadelphia native in 2013 and he soon established himself as a fan favorite after coming off the bench to deny an attempt from Minnesota United FC striker Pablo Campos and preserve a Scorpions shutout on the June 1 match at Toyota Field.
“With an aim toward building from the back as a template for attractive soccer, Jeremy's technical skill continues to be an asset to the club,” said Scorpions coach Alen Marcina as he re-signed the keeper for the 2014 campaign.
The signing of goalkeeper Matt Pickens to replace injured stopper Diego Restrepo will be crucial to the title aspirations of the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
Pickens has played 11 professional seasons, including 10 in Major League Soccer. He spent the last five seasons with the Colorado Rapids, where he made 116 appearances for the club, including a 2-1 MLS Cup victory over FC Dallas in 2010. Pickens holds the Rapids’ franchise records in career games in goal (116), shutouts (29), and wins (41). He has had 40 shutouts and a career goals-against average of 1.25.
“This is a marquee signing that will add a great deal of quality and experience to our squad,” said Rowdies general manager Perry Van Der Beck. “Our goal is to win another championship this season, so we’re excited to have a player of Matt’s caliber on our roster. His size and agility is imposing at his position and I think he will be a great asset for us.”
Soccer fans around the world will be able to ‘Watch Every Match Live’ throughout the 2014 North American Soccer League season, which kicks off on the weekend of April 12/13.
By subscribing to either a 30-day pass or a season access pass at www.NASLLive.com, soccer fans can access all 135 matches during the 2014 NASL Spring and Fall Seasons.
Throughout the month of April, the NASL is offering a 10-day free trial to enjoy the weekly broadcasts as the league’s 10 teams battle to reach the postseason and compete in The Championship for the coveted Soccer Bowl trophy.