The countdown to D.C. United vs. the Columbus Crew on March 8 is well and truly on now. With 31 days to go until the opener, we look at #31 on United's roster, back up goalkeeper Joe Willis, who received an overwhelming 95% "cake" vote in our Cake or Death series last fall. I think relatively few D.C. fans want or expect Willis to usurp Bill Hamid's starting job this year, but nearly all of us are happy to see the 25-year-old St. Louis native back him up between the sticks.
Since there's not really even a hint of a 'keeper controversy, let's talk about goalkeeping depth in MLS. Willis is exactly the kind of GK you want sitting on your substitute's bench: big, quick, confident, able to come into the middle of a game cold and a beast on penalties. All while being not quite as good as the starter, particularly over longer stretches of games. I think we should expect to see Willis get the nod for Open Cup games (up till the Final, should we reach it) again this year as D.C. defends their title, but barring a summer move abroad, I expect Hamid to be starting CONCACAF Champions League games over him.
It's odd in MLS - because of the strength and number of top-level 'keepers the U.S. has produced - that until recently, a decent backup GK was a relative rarity. Just a couple years ago, we mused here that Hamid-Willis might be one of the two or three best starter-backup pairs in the league despite their youth. That's changing, though, as more and more teams add capable reserves to their goalkeeping corps. The Philadelphia Union now have Andre Blake behind (or ahead of) Zach MacMath. The New England Revolution have replaced the now-retired Matt Reis with Brad Knighton to compete with Bobby Shuttleworth. And the Chicago Fire, of course, have Mike Magee to back up Sean Johnson (ah, memories).
So here are my questions for today's countdown post: How vital is goalkeeping depth in MLS at this point in time? And where do you rate D.C. United's goalkeeping corps of Hamid, Willis and Andrew Dykstra against the rest of the league? Let us know in the comments.
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