Columbus Crew SC plays an exacting style of soccer. Its possession oriented and built off of building from the back. The defense pushes up to join the attack. That puts significant responsibility on the goalkeepers.
Gregg Berhalter expects a lot from his goalkeepers. Possession starts when the goalkeeper makes a save and Berhalter wants to keep the ball. The ‘keepers look to play the ball out of the back. That means no punting the ball to midfield. The first choice
Steve Clark joined the team in 2014 after a four year stop with Honefoss of Norway. He has been the starter throughout both his seasons with the Black and Gold, appearing in every regular and postseason game in his Crew SC career. He was a finalist for the MLS Goalkeeper of the Year award in 2014.
Clark's 2015 season was more uneven as the Crew SC defense struggled after the loss of Wil Trapp for extended periods and Emmanuel Pogatez failed to stick in the lineup and Hernan Grana returned to Argentina. His goal against average was third worst in MLS, but some of that was due to the shots he faced. With a defense in transition, Clark faced 168 shots, second in the league and a rise from the 153 he faced in 2014.
The main concerns weren't around Clark's shot stopping ability. He's been a very fine shot stopper with good positioning. He often was flawless as that last line of defense. The biggest concern was memorialized in that gaffe. The one that came on the biggest stage, MLS Cup. Clark took a backpass and failed to recognize the danger that Diego Valeri posed. His clearance was blocked into the net. His misplay cost the team a very early goal.
Clark hasn't shied away from executing Berhalter's style, but he's not Manuel Neuer on the ball. Clark often received back passes under pressure and often would be forced into a clearance or a poor pass. Berhalter has repeatedly accepted these missed touches as the cost of implementing his system. Even with a catastrophic error in a cup final, Clark still has Berhalter's backing.
Crew SC has also struggled with set pieces and some of the blame falls to Clark. Though listed at 6'2", he will struggle in traffic on set pieces. More of the burden falls on his defenders to clear the danger if he's unable to command his six-yard box.
Brad Stuver also joined Crew SC in 2014. He served as the MLS pool goalkeeper in 2013, before landing with the team. Stuver has yet to make a league appearance, but he has climbed up the depth chart. He was the third string goalkeeper during his first year, but moved to second when Matt Lampson went down with an injury. He kept the spot even when Lampson returned to fitness.
Stuver is an excellent shot stopper and is big physical presence in the box at 6' 3". He's played solidly during cup matches and had a good stint with the Wilmington Hammerheads of USL Pro in 2014, but had a standout performance in Crew SC's friendly against La Liga side Valencia last May. He repeatedly showed off his excellent reflexes and solid positioning to keep the score close.
While there is significant depth throughout the team, there is no tested depth behind Clark. If he struggles with form or gets injured. Crew SC will turn to the young and untested Stuver. Unlike other positions, you can't rotate goalkeepers. It's hard to build up a younger player and older starters may not like a role where they don't play. That means the 2016 Crew SC team will be relying on Clark. If he's able to smooth out some of his distribution issues and the defense in front of him solidifies, a return to his 2014 form wouldn't be far off.