Good goalkeeping can take you a long way in tournament play.
For evidence of that axiom, look no further than the Seattle Sounders FC.
Kasey Keller was the cream of the crop in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup this year and Seattle went on to win the tournament, earning Keller TheCup.US Player of the Tournament honors. This coming one year after backup keeper Chris Eylander earned the same honor with the USL’s Seattle Sounders last year.
After playing one of two Open Cup play-in games, a 1-0 shutout of the Colorado Rapids, Keller had one clean sheet and allowed only three goals in 390 minutes of Open Cup play for a 0.69 GAA. In part because of his ‘keeping, the Sounders trailed for only 52 minutes in the entire tournament.
“Winning the Open Cup is very difficult because you have to be sharp all season long,” said goalkeeper coach Tom Dutra, who was Eylander’s coach in the USL too. “In the MLS playoffs, it’s so difficult to make the playoffs, but if you hit your stride at the right time you’ve got only a few games to get to the final.”
Eylander, meanwhile, had 451 scoreless minutes in the 2008 Open Cup before allowing a game-tying goal in the semi-final. Seattle went on to drop that game to the Charleston Battery on penalties, but Eylander was still named Player of the Tournament. This year, he anchored the Sounders to a 4-1 win over Real Salt Lake in Open Cup qualifying before a knee injury hindered his return to Open Cup glory.
Eylander’s run in the 2008 Open Cup came on the heels of perhaps his best stretch of goalkeeping in the 2007 USL playoffs, when the Sounders won their second USL championship in three years.
Making the tournament even more difficult on a goalkeeper is that of all the positions, they are typically more routine-oriented than any other players.
“They’re creatures of habit for sure,” Dutra said. “It takes you out of rhythm and to do what they’ve done is unbelievable.”
Eylander and the USL club reached the semifinals twice in 2007 and 2008 and the 2007 club took home two trophies in league play – the regular season and postseason crowns. This year’s MLS club hopes to do one better and is already one-third of the way there, thanks in large part to the man in front of the net.
“We set out to win three things this year – the Open Cup, the MLS Cup and the Supporters Shield,” Dutra said. “We won one, we’re still in another one and we have to get hot in the playoffs for the third. And to get the first one is huge for the team and huge for Kasey – he was so elated afterwards.”
The Sounders FC will return to league play Saturday at 4:30 against DC United from RFK Stadium in a rematch of the Open Cup final.