A team returning the reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year generally does not have too many questions between the wickets at the start of the new season. And without question, Donovan Ricketts is the Portland Timbers’ first choice goalkeeper by quite some distance entering 2014.
But it isn’t the top spot that furls some brows in the Rose City. Rather, recognizing the Jamaican lion’s seniority, serious questions remain about the Timbers’ depth behind Ricketts.
Boasting a goals-against average of 0.97, batting away 92 saves, and recording 14 shutouts, Ricketts logged perhaps the best year of his career in 2013 and earned a split decision with Nick Rimando for the right to be called the best goalkeeper in MLS. Despite entering the season with questions surrounding his viability as the Timbers fulltime starter, Ricketts quickly silenced his doubters and earned jealous praise from managers across MLS.
In 2013, Ricketts’ dominance was one of the most important elements of a Timbers’ defense that allowed the second fewest goals in the league despite a revolving door at centerback. Between DieJo’s shield and Ricketts’ heroics, the Timbers were able to weather instability and imperfection on the backline on their way to Western Conference supremacy.
As such, there is no doubt about who should mind the Timbers net in 2014. But the fact remains that Ricketts is 36 years old – not ancient for a goalkeeper, but firmly in milk carton mode, especially considering Ricketts’ relatively lengthy medical record.
Behind Ricketts, however, stand a stable of unproved keepers with a combined 14 MLS appearances. Whereas in 2013 the Timbers rested easily with the ever-serviceable Milos Kocic waiting in the wings, the number two in 2014 appears to be newcomer Andrew Weber. While no stranger to MLS – 2014 will be his seventh season in the league – Weber has only made eight appearances, including six in the last two years, giving up a respectable ten goals.
It may well be that Weber and Ricketts are the only goalkeepers currently with the team that wind up readily to Caleb Porter’s avail, as Jake Gleeson appears set to go out on loan and trialist Justin Luthy is apparently only being considered for the David Meves role as resident practice keeper.
In many ways, then, the Timbers’ 2014 goalkeeper situation is the opposite of what it was in 2013. Whereas in 2013 Portland had questions at the top of the depth chart but ample starting-quality depth, the 2014 Timbers boat a clear-cut number one with uncertainties thereafter.
An MLS team, however, would much rather have questions down the goalkeeping depth chart than at the top. Simply put, compared to other positions on the field, MLS is loaded with goalkeeping talent. Matt Lampson, Joe Willis, Chris Seitz, Brad Knighton, Ryan Meara, Zac MacMath, and Joe Bendik all appear likely to sit on the bench in 2014. While few of these players are world-beaters, they’re all keepers of sufficient quality that handing them the keys for a period of time wouldn’t be the end of the world. Even if the Timbers don’t have confidence in Weber to hold down the fort, they could likely land one of these players for a reasonable price should some misfortune knock Ricketts out of the running.
At this point, however, it’s much too early to pass judgment on Weber’s prospects as Ricketts’s understudy. Weber had a respectable record as a backup in Seattle, even if much of that time was spent at third on the depth chart.
While inexperience behind Ricketts poses a potential problem, it is far from intractable. And so long as Ricketts stays healthy, the Timbers can be as confident in their netminder as any team in MLS.
Projected Depth Chart
1. Donovan Ricketts
2. Andrew Weber
3. Jake Gleeson
Onward, Rose City!