First Kick 2013 Countdown: 31 Days - Where does Joe Willis rank among MLS backup goalkeepers?

Bob Levey

As the 2013 MLS season approaches, we're counting down the days to March 2 and running the proverbial rule over each player on D.C. United's roster. Today's subject: backup GK Joe Willis.

Joe Willis is a rather large gentleman. If you pay attention at all to his blonde facial hair, he also frequently looks like he's spent considerable time lost in the Rocky Mountains, which is borderline conceivable for the Colorado native and University of Denver product. He might actually be Bigfoot, now that I think about it. Willis came to D.C. United in the 2011 SuperDraft (but he'd be a supplemental pick in today's more truncated SuperDraft), a member of the same class that gave us Perry Kitchen and Chris Korb, and the 24-year-old has been Bill Hamid's primary backup basically ever since.

Willis appeared in 11 games during the 2012 regular season, starting 10 of them and stepping in for a red carded Hamid in the other. That's a larger load than we'll usually expect for Willis, because Hamid spent a considerable portion of the early season away with the U.S. Olympic Qualifying team. In those ten games and 72 minutes, Willis faced 50 shots and allowed 19 goals, good for a goals against average of 1.76 and a 62% save percentage.

Then came the playoffs and one of the reasons I think United will miss Pat Onstad. After Hamid saw red for a challenge on Kenny Cooper during the third try at a game at Red Bull Arena, Willis came in to face the ensuing penalty. Cooper shot to the 'keeper's right and sent Willis the wrong way. But Theirry Henry, Tim Cahill and half of New Jersey had encroached on the kick, and referee Mark Geiger ordered a retake. Onstad's last bit of advice to Willis before the Coloradan took the field shouldn't have mattered as much as it did; he had told Willis that if Cooper is forced to retake a penalty, he likes to take it to the opposite side from the first. Willis remembered the tip, dove to his left again and saved Cooper's second attempt. We all remember what happened next.

Of course, Willis shipped three second-half goals to a should-have-been 10-man Houston side in the next round of the playoffs, but we're going to look past that for now.

Our question for today: where does Joe Willis fit in among the ranks of MLS backup 'keepers? Last year, Willis had several games where his goals allowed outnumbered his saves, which pretty well put to rest what few calls there were for him to take the starting role over Hamid, but he's pretty securely got the number two spot ahead of Andrew Dykstra (who is a likely candidate to be assigned to USL affiliate Richmond Kickers). With Josh Saunders apparently out the door for the LA Galaxy (rather than merely stepping to the sideline for new man Carlo Cudicini) and with Chris Seitz stepping into the leading role for FC Dallas, the debate over the best backup in the league is officially on, so where does Joe Willis fit into it? Is he the top benchwarmer in MLS? Is he in the top 5? The top half?

Have it out in the comments.

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