The goalkeeper is almost always the last line of defense in soccer. Fortunately Columbus Crew SC has a history of talented goalkeepers and that remains the case in 2015.
Due to the attack-heavy style head coach Gregg Berhalter asks his team to play, the opposition is going to create chances over the course of 90 minutes. If the defense can't get the ball cleared in time, it is up to the goalkeeper to make the save.
The Black and Gold's goalkeeper must also be able to help in the possession-style of play. Typically this means quick and short distribution when he receives the ball. The keeper must be comfortable playing with his feet, as the Columbus defenders will go back to their netminder when under pressure.
In his first year in Columbus, Steve Clark played every minute of MLS and U.S. Open Cup play. The only time someone other than Clark appeared in the net for the Black and Gold was Crew SC's friendly matches against the Dayton Dutch Lions and Crystal Palace FC.
The goalkeeper recorded eight shutouts and finished ranked near the top of the league in saves and goals against average.
Third-year pro and Homegrown product Matt Lampson was expected to get the bulk of the minutes outside of league play in 2014 after losing the keeper battle in preseason, but poorly timed injuries kept him out of action. Lampson was selected to the MLS Chipotle Homegrown team that faced the Portland Timbers U-23s as part of the All-Star festivities.
Brad Stuver spent the majority of 2014 on loan, first to affiliate the Dayton Dutch Lions then to the Wilmington Hammerheads, both of USL PRO. Stuver made league appearance for the Lions and played in two games in the U.S. Open Cup before ankle surgery in June. He was then loaded to Wilmington where he made his debut against Dayton.
Stuver started 11 games for the Hammerheads, keeping four clean sheets and helping the team reach the USL PRO Playoffs.
What Has Changed
Nothing has changed for the Black and Gold when it comes to goalkeepers. All three rostered players from 2014 have returned and will look to have another successful season in the nets as well as unofficial goalkeeper coach Pat Onstad.
What could be different this year is more playing time for Lampson. Although he is not likely to replace Clark in any league games, assuming health, the 25-year old will hope to be healthy for the Open Cup and any potential friendlies the Black and Gold play in 2015.
Stuver is likely to be loaned out again and only used in emergency purposes. Crew SC have a new affiliate in 2015, the Austin Aztex, and Stuver will likely end up down in Texas.
What to Expect This Season
At this time last year, it wasn't clear who would be the starter throughout the season as Clark was still a bit of an unknown quantity. This year, Crew SC fans know what they're getting from the goalkeeper.
Clark was in consideration for the a U.S. call up by the season's end and though the always-modest "Yes!" man won't talk much about playing for his country, it can be assumed he would like that opportunity. Fans should expect similar performances from Clark this year as last year and maybe even a bit better.
After spending a large portion of the offseason in Columbus working with his teammates, Clark will have a better understanding of how the defense wants to play. With new additions on the back line, the Black and Gold hope to be more sound and not force their goalkeeper into nearly as many saves as a year ago, when he was third in the league in that category.
It's not often that goalkeepers get hurt, so Clark will likely play the majority of the MLS games. It would not be surprising, if Crew SC can clinch a playoff birth and a high seed with games remaining, to see Lampson get an MLS game or two at the end of the season.
There's no doubt Lampson will continue to push Clark in training, helping both keepers improve.
Clark will once again be a top MLS goalkeeper and will finally get that U.S. call-up by the season's end.