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Goalkeeper distribution plays a key role in possession

Crew Head Coach Gregg Berhalter wants his team to retain possession of the ball whenever possible and this starts with proper distribution by goalkeeper Steve Clark.

A goalkeeper's job is to keep the ball out of the net, but if he can contribute to the team in other ways it is an added bonus.

The Columbus Crew, under new Head Coach Gregg Berhalter, wants to play a possession-based style of soccer and that can start with his goalkeeper.

"We're trying to emphasize a certain way to play and I think that [the goalkeeper distribution] has something to do with it," he said.

If the goalkeeper can help the team retain possession when he has the ball it benefits him as well.

"If we can have the ball and keep the ball, the opponent can't score," Berhalter said of his ‘keepers helping to keep control.

Pat Onstad, a two-time MLS Goalkeeper of the Year and new Columbus assistant believes this is something the Black and Gold need due to their new style.

"You need a goalkeeper who can play with his feet," he said. "I think the standard in the league is probably Nick Rimando, he's probably the most comfortable with his feet with the ball, before that was probably like a Tony Meola."

It is no coincidence that these are two of the more successful goalkeepers in MLS history and the only two ‘keepers to be named MLS Cup MVP.

Coming from Honefoss BK in Norway, where he was required to play the ball with his feet frequently, new goalkeeper Steve Clark is familiar with this style of play.

"That's my style too. I like to play in tight spaces, I like to create angles," Clark said.

"That's what I was doing for the last four years. As a goalkeeper, we're always trying to get better with our feet and it's something that can really help the team. Possession wise, if you have a guy back there that can keep the ball for you and switch the field, it can be really difficult to get the ball off a team."

Clark competed with Matt Lampson in preseason for the starting spot and ultimately won the job. Clark's comfort in possession gave him the little edge he needed in tight race.

"Obviously the fact that Steve can play with his feet is something that separates him a little bit from the others guys but I certainly wouldn't say Matt's not good with his feet, that's probably one of his strengths as well," Onstad said.

Berhalter wants his team to have ownership of the ball in their opponents' end of the field, but that is not always possible. At points in games, the ball will be in the defensive area and if the players trust the goalkeeper to handle the ball, he can act as an eleventh field player.

"It's something that's another dimension to the game where you can have a goalkeeper that's really good [with the ball at his feet], it makes the team so much better," Clark said.

Another important job for a goalkeeper is distribution. So many ‘keepers in MLS play the long ball and while that clears it of the defensive third, it also creates a 50/50 ball that either team can win. If a team can play short and work the ball up the field, they are much more likely to keep possession and create a scoring opportunity.

"I thought against D.C. he served some really nice balls and kept us in possession," Onstad said of Clark.

"Actually on a couple of occasions we broke out quite well and I wouldn't want to say he created the opportunity, but it gave us an opportunity to create that opportunity. Goalkeepers don't do that very often so it's nice to see."

Clark's quick ball dispersal creates a counter attack that will likely catch teams unprepared. It is unlikely he will register many assists or score a goal - something that has hurt the Crew in the past - but Clark knows there is a time and place to go long.

"I call it the red button. If you've gotta push it, you push it," he said. "The thing is, I make the ultimate decision back there so it's on me. If I decide to kick it to the stands then we start over."

The coaching staff hopes they don't have to start over often and Clark's - or any Crew goalkeeper - distribution will continue to be an asset.