Last season may have been disappointing for the Galaxy, but LA ended 2016 on a high note in goal. Brian Rowe had a breakout year, posting nine shutouts and a slim 1.06 goals against average, winning plaudits for his steady hands in front of net and even accepting a USA call up.
Behind Rowe, Clement Diop also enjoyed a positive first year with the senior squad, making a few cameo appearances while continuing to hone his craft. Fast forward to 2017, and the same Diop just recently apologized on Instagram after a horror mistake led to dropped points vs. Sporting Kansas City.
It's hard to make the case that he's an MLS-caliber 'keeper in any way. Galaxy need to change him at halftime.https://t.co/JsUo93X9pm— Matthew Doyle (@MattDoyle76) June 25, 2017
At first glance, not much.
An argument can be made both keepers have suffered from a lack of playing time. We’re halfway through the season and neither Rowe nor Diop have gotten a run of more than six games in goal, making it difficult to round into top form. But an important piece from 2016 is missing: When Bruce Arena hastily accepted the USA national team job, his loyal coaching staff followed suit, including goalkeeper coach Matt Reis.
This was not a insignificant departure. During his three years in charge, Reis excelled at working with athletic keepers and refining their technique. And his methods brought results. When Jaime Penedo arrived in 2013, he was obviously talented but prone to mistakes. After Reis was brought in, his goalkeeping became sharper (particularly his aerial game) and the Panama international was arguably the league’s best by the time he left LA.
And when older veterans Donovan Ricketts and Dan Kennedy failed to hold down the starting job, Rowe was ready. Like Penedo, he was capable of making the athletic save, but when the UCLA product’s natural talent was coupled with a more refined game, his consistency issues became a thing of the past as a former pool keeper transformed into a rock-solid goalkeeper.
So what’s gone wrong?
We took a long, hard look at every goal the Galaxy have conceded in 2017 to come with some answers. It was not pretty viewing, and quickly some themes began to emerge.
-Diop and Rowe are guilty of conceding too many goals due to poor technique, bad form, or a combination of the two. Rowe has been the more consistent keeper, but not the same reliable force he was last season. Worryingly, their subpar play has not been defined by a few aberrations, but a consistent theme throughout the year.
-Both keepers do a serviceable job with reaction saves, but struggle with breakaways and aerial balls, specifically crosses.
Let’s take a look back at when LA conceded at the death vs. Orlando City.
Nearly everything Diop does on this play is wrong. As Will Johnson prepares to take the corner, Clement should recognize that right-footed service is coming and line up much closer to his far post. Because his positioning his poor, Diop is unable to scramble fast enough to make a play on the cross, briefly hesitating before retreating to the goal line and giving Cyle Larin the entire goalmouth to stab home the game-winner.
If Diop is in the right spot, he takes two steps and collects the ball.
For a more recent example, let’s analyze Real Salt Lake’s opener. With Albert Rusnák racing in alone from 35 yards away, Diop retreats a few steps (No no no!) before timidly charging forward then collapsing while Rusnák passes around the keeper and in.
If Diop stands tall, not only does he makes himself bigger giving Rusnák less of an angle to strike from, the odds are better he can anticipate where Rusnák is planning to strike. The finish from the RSL DP was weak, but enough to beat Diop.
Remember what I said earlier about mistakes being a consistent theme? Watch Real Salt Lake’s second goal. It’s a carbon copy of what happened in Orlando.
There’s no “right” way for a keeper to command their area, but as a general rule you should never concede inside your six-yard box off a corner kick. That’s Diop’s box.
These are all signs that point to inadequate training. When a keeper is not well-versed in their craft, they can’t perform at an elite level. Not only does their form suffer, they become much more prone to errors, both physical and mental.
As things stand, this is a real problem for LA.