It appeared to start the 2021 season, Bob Bradley was turning over a new leaf, and with Kenneth Vermeer leaving LAFC the day before the season started, Pablo Sisniega looked like he would be the starting goalkeeper this season. With the club aiming to win trophies, having a timeshare the past two years had not worked, frankly, even if some of the context around the changes had forced Bradley’s hand.
But it didn’t go like that at all. Sisniega played eight games, then youngster Tomas Romero seemed to have wrestled the No. 1 as he played the next 18 games, before Jamal Blackman slotted in the past five games.
To be perfectly honest, none of the players should be getting ready for an MLS Goalkeeper of the Year award this season, but the context around each player is fairly damning in one way or another.
Sisniega is very effective at coming way off his line and stopping some shots before they are taken. But his save percentage has been 58.3%, which is poor. As the player who was once billed the superior shotstopper to his competition on the team, he hasn’t proven exceptional in that regard statistically.
Romero’s save percentage is worse, at 56.3%, but he seemed to be settling in as the future No. 1 and showed an intangible, composure, more than most LAFC goalkeepers have in the past. Still, his underlying numbers have been the worst, although he’s also gotten the lion’s share of playing time.
So then it was Blackman’s turn, the longtime Chelsea contractee becoming the latest goalkeeping import for the black-and-gold. Obviously his sample size is the smallest of the trio, but while he shows an aggression similar to Sisniega in coming off his line, and his save percentage is 65%, best of the trio, he has a Vermeer-esque penchant for constantly looking like he’s about to cough up a gigantic gaffe. Do I feel like he’s the answer and the player who will finally, finally take over as the full-time starter? Nope.
Over at American Soccer Analysis, all of LAFC’s goalkeepers have a negative Goals Added value, with Romero’s a stunning -5.94 figure, second-worst in the league this season. To me, this says none of these goalkeepers are bailing out their team, which even good teams need from time to time to get results.
LAFC are firmly middle of the pack in terms of their goals allowed this season so far, with 45, and we’ve already discussed the club’s goals scored number crashing down to earth this season, to the point that the team has a goal difference of just +2.
It’s also worth noting that goalkeeping is not the absolute responsibility of one person. The tactics used can help or hurt goalkeeping numbers, and LAFC’s high-risk style certainly does the men between the sticks no favors. On top of that, goalkeepers need their defenses to bail them out sometimes, and LAFC’s defense has been a chopped-and-changed mess throughout the season, too. If Bradley chose to pack his defense and make that the priority, it stands to reason any of Sisniega, Romero and Blackman would look better — and the numbers would show it.
Still, with the sheer number of games in which LAFC has dropped points from a winning or drawing position this season, 27 points in total, the club has gone from contenders at the start of the season to somewhat unlikely to even make the playoffs now. Let’s say LAFC had picked up just 12 of those points that they’ve dropped this year, since every team drops points from time to time, they would be comfortably in the top four in the Western Conference, gearing up for a home playoff game with a few games left to play in the regular season.
I think this is where the crux of the goalkeeping issue lies. Again, the goalkeepers aren’t the sole reason LAFC has severely underperformed this year, but if they had been above average collectively, perhaps LAFC would have clawed back some of those 27 points they coughed up this year. Then again, if any of them had performed above average, there probably would not have been a goalkeeper merry-go-round at all at the club as one would have presumably wrestled the No. 1 role permanently. In the end, all facets surrounding LAFC in 2021 are underperforming, but since Tyler Miller suffered his crisis in confidence in the second half of 2019, LAFC have not yet found a solution at the position, and this season, it could cost them big time. It may not only lead to them missing the playoffs altogether this year, but may cost several people their jobs come season’s end.
What do you think? Leave a comment below.