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What could be the future of Crew goalkeeping

Might a current MLS goalkeeper be the heir apparent to Zack Steffen?

MLS: Eastern Conference Semifinal-New York Red Bulls at Columbus Crew SC Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

As was recently discussed on Episode 299 of the Massive Report Podcast, Columbus Crew SC is still seeking answers for the post-Zack Steffen era of goalkeeping. Current Crew keepers Joe Bendik and Jon Kempin have considerable experience in Major League Soccer. Bendik, in particular, has played over 15,000 minutes within the league. While Kempin has seen considerably less action, he has been on an MLS roster since 2010. Ben Lundgaard is also in the Crew pipeline. The 23-year-old was the 21st selection of the 2018 MLS Super Draft and is currently on loan with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. Given that Kempin and Lundgaard were brought to the club under a different coach and general manager, their future with the club is questionable.

It is a certainty that team President, Tim Bezbatchenko will scourer the earth for a suitable replacement. For the sake of this piece, however, we will focus on potential prospects already in Major League Soccer. If you are a longtime Crew supporter, it is likely that some of the goalkeepers listed will be familiar, while others may be more obscure.

One key aspect to keep in mind when it comes to goalkeepers is that they tend to hit the prime of their career in their late 20s and maintain a high level of play well into their 30s -- which tells you how much of a ceiling Zack Steffen has to grow into at the ripe age of 24. The following goalkeepers are currently in Major League Soccer and conceivably could be available for the right price.

Steve Clark (Portland Timbres) - The former Crew man is currently a member of the Timbers and sitting behind starter Jeff Antinella. He is likely to be supplanted from the backup role by Aljaz Ivacic, who signed via transfer from Olimpija Ljubljana in January. Clark was a fan favorite during his time in Columbus from 2014 to 2016. Though his massive gaffe in MLS Cup 2015 may leave a bad taste in fans mouth, he is still a very capable goalkeeper in this league. He is technically sound and recently celebrating his 33rd birthday, he has a handful more of quality years left to contribute.

Tyler Deric (Houston Dynamo) – The 30-year-old Texas native has played his entire career with his hometown team. Deric was the first Dynamo Academy player to be promoted to the senior roster and has spent the majority of his career as a backup, though he did start parts of four seasons from 2014 to 2017. At 6-foot-3, he is tall, has long limbs, and shown to be a quality shot-stopper. Joe Willis is firmly entrenched as the starter in Houston and barring an injury, Deric is unlikely to garner starting minutes anytime soon. Perhaps a change in scenery would rejuvenate his career.

Clement Diop (Montreal Impact) – The 25-year-old netminder is currently backing up Evan Bush in Montreal. Diop’s biggest claim to fame is being a United Soccer League champion, having led LA Galaxy II to the league crown in 2015. Prior to joining the Galaxy organization, Diop came up through the youth ranks of French club Amiens. He moved up from LA II and started parts of the 2017 season with the Galaxy, yielding mixed results. At 6-foot-1, he is on the shorter side of the prototypical goalkeeper of today’s game, but he has superb reflexes and athleticism.

Matt Lampson (LA Galaxy) - A former Crew Homegrown player, Lampson has established himself as a reliable keeper in MLS, though he has yet to put a stranglehold on a starting opportunity. He played parts of 16 matches over three seasons for Columbus, before signing with the Chicago Fire and starting 35 games from 2016 to 2017. The 29-year-old is now in his eighth season as a pro and is currently the backup to David Bingham in Los Angeles.

Zac MacMath (Vancouver Whitecaps) - MacMath was highly regarded coming into the 2011 MLS SuperDraft, being selected number five overall by the Philadelphia Union. Conventional wisdom suggested that he would be the long-term starter for Philadelphia. While he played adequately even with an atrocious defense in front of him, a move elsewhere was inevitable after the Union drafted Andre Blake with the number one overall selection of the 2014 MLS Super Draft.

MacMath was loaned and eventually dealt to the Colorado Rapids, as it was thought he would be their starting goalkeeper for the foreseeable future. Unbeknownst to the Rapids and MacMath, a chance to acquire U.S. Men’s National Team legend Tim Howard came to fruition in the summer of 2016. Once more, MacMath was pushed to the bench. This past offseason, the Whitecaps traded for the 27-year-old, though he is currently playing second-fiddle to Canadian International Maxime Crépeau. MacMath will likely get his chance to make an impact while Crépeau is with Canada during the Gold Cup, allowing him to showcase his abilities to a team in need of an upgrade in goal.

Ryan Meara (New York Red Bulls) – Meara was selected in the second round of the 2012 MLS SuperDraft, starting 18 games his rookie season, performing admirably for the Red Bulls. Meara was acquired with the intention of solidifying the problematic Red Bull goalkeeping situation. He showed well, but New York had the opportunity to obtain the services of Luis Robles. Having had a cup of coffee with the USMNT, Robles was acquired through the MLS allocation process. Fast-forward seven years, Meara has seen minimal action and Robles has become one of the most dominant goalkeepers in the league, yet to relinquish the starting role since coming aboard midway through 2012.

Since Robles took over, Meara’s game minutes have been minimal, seeing just spot duty with New York. He did start 25 matches with RBNY II and earned a single start while on loan with crosstown rival, New York City FC. While his minutes are lacking in recent seasons, at 28 he is only now beginning his prime years as a goalkeeper. Meara is a talented goalkeeper who showed how reliable and solid he could be during the 2012 season. At 6-foot-4 and just under 200 pounds, Meara has the height and size you want in a starting goalie. If a starting role is paramount to him, this is the time of his career to make a move.

Chris Seitz (D.C. United) - Seitz was the fourth overall draft selection by Real Salt Lake in the 2007 MLS SuperDraft, though he didn’t see significant action until he was dealt to Philadelphia in 2010 for their inaugural season. He struggled mightily, posting the worst goals-against-average in the league that season (1.80). In fairness, a 22-year-old starting keeper on an expansion team is doomed to fail. Seitz moved on to FC Dallas where he backed-up MLS veteran, Kevin Hartman and up-and-coming star Jesse Gonzalez.

In 2016, Seitz earned the starting role and was spectacular. He led Dallas to earn the Supporters’ Shield and U.S. Open Cup title. Since that successful run, Seitz has bounced between Houston and is currently with United as a backup to already entrenched starters. At 32-years-of-age, the 6-foot-4 netminder still has plenty of formidable years left in the tank.

Bobby Shuttleworth (Minnesota United) - The 32-year-old, longtime New England Revolution netminder was traded to Minnesota to be the primary goalie during their expansion season in 2017. After starting the majority of the Loons 2017 and 2018 seasons, Shuttleworth finds himself now sitting behind current Minnesota starter, Vito Mannone.

Shuttleworth is a battler, he climbed his way up the U.S. Soccer pyramid, having started his career in the National Professional Soccer League and ascending to be a full-time MLS starter for two clubs. He has great reflexes and puts his body on the line to make saves. His roller coaster ride of a 2018 season led to Minnesota acquiring Mannone. A change of scenery could suit Shuttleworth well.

Crew System Goalkeepers

Plenty of discussions have been had throughout the social media sphere of Crewville, regarding the Columbus system and how a goalkeeper may or may not fit within. It is imperative that fans understand that head coach Caleb Porter’s system is different from Gregg Berhalter’s, just as Berhalter’s differed from Robert Warztcha’s. The Crew have been blessed with a plethora of quality goalkeepers throughout their history. However, what was a fit for the previous regime may not necessarily be the perfect fit for Porter.

One significant difference is that Berhalter was adamant that the Crew offensive attack often initiated with the goalkeeper. Having a goalkeeper who is up to snuff with the ball at his feet and able to quickly and accurately distribute the ball was of supreme importance. In modern soccer, every goalkeeper must be comfortable and confident in playing the ball with their feet. However, Porter’s history of goalkeepers has shown more of an emphasis on shot-stopping and defensive organizing.

Keep in mind that the above list isn’t necessarily compiled of goalkeepers that are knowingly available for trades. It is merely a list of quality backups that possess the ability to start and make a positive impact within Major League Soccer. Whether or not the Crew would have any interest in them remains to be seen.

Regardless, the Crew needs to decide if Bendik or Kempin is their starter, not only for this season but also for the long haul. No matter how rich of a history the Crew has had between the pipes over the years, comparing the two aforementioned players to a true star in Steffen would be foolish and unfair. Yes, the bar has been raised with Steffen, but in fact, the bar has been raised throughout the league for player acquisition across the board. Few league executives know how to maneuver and manipulate the various MLS salary mechanisms quite like Bezbatchenko. You can bet reinforcements are on the way.