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2019 Crew Review: Goalkeepers

Taking a look at how the Black & Gold keepers performed this season

MLS: New York City FC at Columbus Crew SC Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

The 2019 Columbus Crew SC season came to an end in early October with the Black & Gold missing out on the MLS Cup playoffs. While no postseason in Columbus is certainly a disappointment, the Crew did finish the year well and there’s optimism in the air heading into 2020.

But before we start looking ahead, we have to look back and review the 2019 season piece by piece. To begin the Massive Report Crew positional review, we start with arguably the most important position on the field: the goalkeeper.

Often times, reviewing a goalkeeper position is simple because one, maybe two keepers played throughout the course of the year. That is not the case with the Black & Gold, who had four goalkeepers get action this season. Let’s take a look at how those four performed.

Editor’s note: The goalkeepers are listed in order of the number of appearances and not in any form order.

Zack Steffen

Steffen burst on to the scene for the Crew in 2017 as the team’s starting goalkeeper at just 21 years old. He quickly showed he was one of the best goalkeepers in Major League Soccer and worked his way into the U.S. Men’s National Team picture and that led to interest abroad. Last offseason when Manchester City came calling, the Black & Gold had no choice but to sell Steffen for the highest fee ever received for an MLS goalie.

But before he left for Europe, Steffen still had work to do in Columbus. The Pennsylvania native played 13 times for the Crew before departing in early June. Steffen recorded shutouts in four out of five games he played for the Black & Gold to start the 2019 season and allowed just 17 goals in 13 games played behind a defense that wasn’t exactly airtight.

While Crew fans certainly would have loved to see Steffen remain in Columbus, the Crew knew entering the season he would have to go. Steffen’s final game for the Black & Gold came on June 1, a 2-2 tie with New York City FC where he made two saves.

Steffen will be remembered in MLS for his performance in the playoffs, his big saves and his 2018 Goalkeeper of the Year award. While his final 13 games for the Crew didn’t go as he wanted record-wise — the team went 5-9-2 before he left — it was great to see Steffen perform before he headed across the pond.

Eloy Room

Following that June 1 draw that saw Steffen play his final game, the question for the Crew became how the team replaces the U.S. goalkeeper. It took a little over a month but Room finally made his debut for the Black & Gold after he was acquired on July 5.

It did not take long for the 30 year old to prove himself as the next great keeper in a long history of good ones for Columbus. His first two starts were wins by the Crew after a huge drought in the summer. In his third game, Room made four saves in an important 1-1 road draw with the San Jose Earthquakes.

While it took until the second-to-last game of the season for Room to earn his first shutout for the Black & Gold, this was more of an indictment on the changing defense in front of him than how well the goalkeeper performed in net. His 1.13 goals against average was fourth-best among starting goalkeepers, although Room did play significantly fewer games than those in front of him.

Room’s leadership helped to bring a calming presence to the backline that certainly disappeared after Steffen’s departure. After joining the club, Room proved to be a very solid all-around keeper who can lead this team’s defense going forward.

While it seemed it would be difficult, or at least take some time, to find a replacement for Steffen, the Crew did it in just under a month and have their man in the net for the foreseeable future.

Joe Bendik

When Bendik was acquired from Orlando City SC in late December, many thought he would be the answer when Steffen left. Bendik had eight years of experience in MLS, five of which he started at least 25 games. While it he may not be the long-term answer, the goalkeeper with 22 career shutouts was expected to take over in the net for the Crew for at least the second half of 2019.

That was not to be.

Perhaps the writing was on the wall from his debut for the Black & Gold when Bendik conceded three goals in 3-0 loss at the Philadelphia Union. While he could not be blamed for all three of those goals, and was playing with a makeshift lineup in front of him, it was not a good start for Bendik in Columbus.

Bendik’s second appearance was better, holding Los Angeles Football Club to 1-0 through 85 minutes, but two late goals on mistakes gave the goalkeeper his second 3-0 loss for the Crew in two outings. Bendik was then replaced as the Black & Gold’s backup to Steffen, making four more appearances for the club the rest of the year.

The goalkeeper was traded to Philadelphia Union on July 19 and he did not make an appearance the rest of the MLS season.

While the results weren’t good for Bendik, the situation did not help him. He did not get any games with the Crew’s true first-team defense and struggled to deal with a changing cast in front of him. Had things gone differently when it came to injuries and international call-ups, maybe Bendik is still a member of the Black & Gold. But 2019 will certainly be a season the veteran goalkeeper will want to put behind him.

Jon Kempin

In his second season in Columbus, Kempin had to fight for the backup role he held in 2018. With the addition of Bendik before the season, any assumptions Kempin had about taking over the starting role when Steffen left went out the window.

But that didn’t change the approach of the 26 year old, who has been in MLS for 10 years but has only 22 appearances to his name. Kempin fought hard in training, looking to learn as much as he could from both Steffen and Bendik early in the year. When Steffen went away with the national team early in the season, it was Bendik who got the starts, but Kempin continued to keep a good attitude.

Finally in mid-May, Kempin got his first start of 2019, a 1-0 loss at Minnesota United. While the Crew dropped yet another game, it was one of the better defensive performances the team had played without Steffen with Kempin making two saves.

Kempin didn’t see the field again until over a month later in back-to-back games against Sporting Kansas City and Orlando. After the arrival of Room and the departure of Bendik, Kempin became the unquestioned backup goalkeeper but was not needed to step in for the Black & Gold for the remainder of the season.

There is no doubt Kempin would like to be a starter in MLS, but there may be no better backup, with the way he works in practice and how he can step into a game, in MLS.

In total, it wasn’t a great year for Columbus goalkeepers. Steffen and Room each played very well but both starters would tell you they conceded too many goals — whether their fault or not — and did not get their team enough wins.

But with Room as the starter going forward, the future is bright in goal for the Crew.