In this edition of Major League Soccer Talking Points, ESPN FC asks Doug McIntyre, Jeff Carlisle and Jason Davis which of the league's goalkeepers deserve special recognition.
Tim Howard | Colorado Rapids
Tim Howard is not like other U.S. national team standouts who have returned to MLS after successful careers in Europe; he's a goalkeeper. In fact, Howard is only the second keeper in league history to sign a big-money designated player contract (German Frank Rost, who played for the New York Red Bulls in 2011, was the first).
It's pretty obvious why just two of MLS's 127 designated players since 2007 have been keepers. When MLS owners want to pay a single player more than many of his teammates combined, they almost always go for the guy who can deliver goals, assists and entertaining attacking play. Those things sell tickets. But so do household names, and Howard's is one that casual fans know thanks to his record-setting 16-save performance against Belgium in the second round of the 2014 World Cup.
You know what else sells? Winning. And while the Rapids were having a truly fantastic season long before Howard's July 4 debut, few would argue that his arrival didn't instantly make them a more formidable team.
At 37, Howard doesn't boast the catlike reflexes he did in his prime. He's still a top-shelf MLS keeper, though, whose timely saves have already stolen points for Colorado. Howard's experience has also helped Pablo Mastroeni's team survive the unexpected absence of another U.S. vet, midfielder Jermaine Jones, who has now missed six straight matches because of a knee injury.
Coaches often call keepers the most important players on the field, and Howard is showing us why. He could end up being the vital final piece of a championship-caliber team. If the Rapids get anywhere close to MLS Cup this fall, perhaps the money men will realize that the right goalkeeper can be an even better investment than those flashy guys up front.
David Bingham | San Jose Earthquakes
David Bingham has enjoyed a steady rise through the MLS goalkeeping ranks since earning a starting spot last year with the San Jose Earthquakes. In the words of U.S. men's national team manager Jurgen Klinsmann, Bingham was one of the big winners at this year's January camp, and he was named an MLS All-Star for this year's match against Arsenal.
While Bingham is an adept shot stopper, what sets him apart from other MLS keepers is his ability to command his penalty area. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Bingham has the highest combined number of catches and punches per 90 minutes of any keeper in the league. On a team that up to this point has struggled offensively and had an injury-hit back line, that ability to take pressure off of his defense and allow them to breathe is an underrated aspect of goalkeeping.
Granted, Bingham had some initial struggles, in that he seemed intent on claiming everything in the air, whether it was a good idea or not. In fact, there were moments when he was more of a danger to his teammates -- by virtue of plowing through them in an attempt to secure the ball -- than the opposition, but those errors have gradually disappeared from his game. When combined with his impressive ability in other goalkeeping areas, Bingham looks poised to be a standout for the Quakes for years to come.
-- Jeff Carlisle (@JeffreyCarlisle)
Luis Robles | New York Red Bulls
Luis Robles, the elite MLS goalkeeper, can't be separated from Luis Robles, the almost ex-goalkeeper who practically fell into the lap of the New York Red Bulls. Robles' story of redemption is a major part of what makes him a fascinating, only-in-MLS type of figure. If not for Robles taking one last shot at joining MLS after leaving Europe and finding himself working in real estate to make ends meet, his career would be over and the Red Bulls would be out an excellent keeper.
Because no matter what kind of spice the tale of his near retirement adds to Robles' status as New York's No. 1, he is a truly excellent goalkeeper. Through his consistent play, Robles has solidified a position that the Red Bulls had trouble with for a number of years. From overpaying Frank Rost to handing the keys to a rookie out of Fordham named Ryan Meara, the New Jersey-based club couldn't seem to find the right fit to man the net for a number of seasons. Robles' arrival and subsequent winning of the job when Meara went out injured has freed them up to focus on outfield areas. Ali Curtis' in-depth plan didn't need to address the goalkeeping position in the short term.
The Arizona native is known for making incredible saves when necessary, a function of his athleticism and keen instincts. What Robles lacks in refinement, he often makes up for with his ability to scramble into big stops. He shows strong leadership from the back and serves as a key part of the larger Red Bulls effort to marshal a defense. Young center-back Matt Miazga greatly benefited from Robles' guidance while he was a member of the club before scoring a high-profile transfer to Chelsea of the Premier League.
-- Jason Davis (@davisjsn)