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Keeper-Go-Round

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The curious case of the Philadelphia Union and its unique Goalkeeping situation might come as a surprise to most of you. Unfortunately, it's more like business as usual for a Nick Sakiewicz-run team.

John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

Nick Sakiewicz was a goalkeeper in his "playing" days. One would think he would know a thing or two about the position and the psyche of the players, but that doesn't stop him from playing mind games or just being fickle with them. Here's a little of the Philadelphia Union history.

Prior to the inaugural season the Union used their third round pick in the Expansion Draft to select Brad Knighton from the New England Revolution, and pulled a trade with Real Salt Lake for 22 year old Chris Seitz. Sakiewicz felt they had the keepers of the present and the future.

"With the addition of Chris to our club, we’ve got two good
young goalkeepers who will help build a strong foundation for our
future," offered CEO & Operating Partner Nick Sakiewicz. "I’ve seen
and heard a lot about Chris and Brad Knighton, who we drafted from New
England, and I look forward to watching the competition between them
once training begins."

Unfortunately, after a somewhat disastrous season, the front office decided to give up on both keepers. Knighton was waived during the offseason, and 2011 with the Carolina RailHawks in NASL. Seitz was protected during the 2011 Expansion Draft, but then later waived and selected by the Seattle Sounders in the 2011 Re-Entry Draft.

After the inaugural season, the front office decided to go a different way and took young Zac MacMath from Maryland University in the first round (5th overall) of the 2011 MLS SuperDraft. They also brought in 40 year old, three-time World Cup veteran Faryd Mondragon to mentor the young lad while giving the Union it's first bona-fide international star.

After a great year where both Mondragon and MacMath averaged an impressive 1.065 goals against average (GAA), Mondragon decided to go back to his native Colombia despite having one more year left in his contract. That left the 21 year old MacMath as the starting keeper for the 2012 season by default. The front office brought in career backup Chris Konopka and signed Chase Harrison from its USL PRO affiliate in Harrisburg.

With a year as an MLS starter under his belt, MacMath came into 2013 confident. That confidence initially showed, but as the season progressed his decision making started to be questioned by the fan base. The Front Office decided that MacMath needed to get pushed or mentored (depending on how you looked at it),  so they signed 39 year old German goalkeeper Oka Nikolov from Eintracht Frankfurt. Oka did not play in any games for the Union, but his presence seemed to help young Zac lower his GAA to 1.29 from 1.34 in 2012.

"It's certainly a concern, but I think our coaching staff has a lot to do with the players' confidence and where they feel they stand," Hackworth said. "For instance, if Oka's first chance is July 12 and I fly him in and the next day I start him, yeah if I were Zac, I'd be pretty rattled about it. But that's not the way we're going to approach this at all. ... Zac knows the situation. He knows he's still No. 1. He knows that we still believe in him, we trust in him and he's got a long and hopefully as illustrious a career as Oka has."

2014 was a different animal for the Union, with draft day moves to acquire Jamaican phenom Andre Blake. The move seemed odd at the time - if a team has a 22 year old goalkeeper who has started the last two years and has done well for you, why would you need to move up in the draft to acquire an unproven, slightly older keeper? MacMath seemed to play well, however shortly after the halfway mark of the season the Union's front office signed 28 year old Algerian World Cup goalkeeper Rais M'Bohli, who's only claims to fame are getting beaten by Landon Donovan in the 2010 World Cup, and a magnificent game against eventual World Cup champions Germany in 2014. His club history shows that he has played for ten teams in eleven years - usually a red flag for any player.

Year Keeper Games Save % GAA W L T Sho
2010 Chris Seitz 23 60 1.8 5 12 6 0
2010 Brad Knighton 8 70 1.1 3 3 1 2
2011 Faryd Mondragon 27 62 1.06 8 8 11 7
2012 Zac MacMath 32 67 1.34 10 17 5 8
2013 Zac MacMath 34 69 1.29 12 12 10 12
2014 Zac MacMath 26 63 1.50 8 8 10 5
2014 Rais M'Bohli 4 54 1.00 1 1 2 1

To fully understand this though, you must dig deeper. Let's go back to 1996  - the inaugural season of MLS, when a young Nick Sakiewicz was named GM of the Tampa Bay Mutiny.

Sakiewicz inherited 29 year old Mark Dougherty, the Mutiny's first round selection over the likes future MLS stars like Raul Arce Diaz, Peter Vermes and Jason Kreis. Dougherty came in to the Mutiny having won a Western Soccer League title with the San Francisco Bay Blackhawks in 1991 and having made a playoff appearance every year as a professional from 1989 to 1995. Great pick up by the Mutiny, as Dougherty in 1996 led the Mutiny to the league's first Supporter's Shield and a second place finish in 1997 behind eventual champions DC United.

1998, however. was a very bad year for the Mutiny. Sakiewicz and the Mutiny traded Carlos Valderrama to expansion club Miami Fusion, and in return he received 39 year old Swedish goalkeeper Thomas Ravelli. Ravelli was a veteran of the 1990 and 1994 World Cups, and had played his previous 19 years in his native Sweden. This move made Mark Dougherty expendable, so Dougherty was traded to the Columbus Crew, where he became the first choice keeper until an injury forced him to retire. With the Ravelli move, Sakiewicz's pattern of acquiring veteran goalkeepers with World Cup experience begins.

After a bad year Ravelli decided to go back home and left the Mutiny without a starting goalkeeper. Sakiewicz and the Mutiny made a blockbuster trade with D.C. United and acquired Scott Garlick, who the previous year had led United to their third MLS Cup. The emergence of Tom Prethus in D.C. made Garlick expendable, so it was easy pickings for Sakiewicz.

Year Keeper Games Save % GAA W L T Sho
1996 Mark Dougherty 28 66 1.68 17 11 0 3
1997 Mark Dougherty 25 67 1.89 15 9 0 3
1998 Thomas Ravelli 23 73 1.67 7 13 0 2
1999 Scott Garlick 28 79 1.31 14 13 0 5

After the 1999 season Sakiewicz said goodbye to the Mutiny and hello to the New York MetroStars. The Mutiny would only survive another two years, folding after the 2001 season.

The MetroStars had a great goalkeeper on their roster in 28 year old veteran Mike Ammann. Mike had been starter for the MetroStars in 1999 after being traded from the Kansas City Wizards (with Mark Chung) for Tony Meola and Alexi Lalas, a move that saw the MetroStars plummet to last place in the Eastern conference. Ammann was a couple of years removed from setting the (at the time) MLS record for wins with 21.

Ammann's backup was 21 year old up and comer Tim Howard. In 1999, Tim was the first choice starter during the FIFA World Youth Championship in Nigeria where the United States advanced to the round of 16 before they got eliminated by eventual champions Spain. In 2000 Howard was the backup keeper to Brad Friedel during the Summer Olympics in Sidney. Despite being away at the Olympics, Howard managed to start nine games for the MetroStars, winning five and recording four shutouts. Ammann was the starter for most of the year and named to the 2000 MLS All-Star Team before being seriously injured by Mamadou Diallo in a match against the Tampa Bay Mutiny. The MetroStars wound up finishing first in the Eastern Conference before losing in the semifinals to the Chicago Fire. During the offseason, Ammann was traded to D.C. United and Howard was given the starting job.

Tim Howard remained the starting keeper from 2001 through the halfway point halfway of the 2003 season when he was transferred to English powerhouse Manchester United for a reported 4 million dollars. To replace Howard, Sakiewicz brought in American unknown Jonny Walker. At 29 years old, Walker had been drafted by the Dallas Burn in the 1996 MLS Inaugural draft but didn't see any playing time. In 1997 Walker played in the A League (not the Australian first division, but a league in the US that eventually became the USL PRO) with the Jacksonville Cyclones. In 1998 Walker moved to Chile and signed a contract with Universidad Catolica, the third most succesful team in Chile. In 1999 he became their first choice keeper and remained so until 2002, in 2003 he signed with Chile's most decorated team, Colo Colo.

In 2004, with 30 year old Walker as his starting keeper, Sakiewicz took Zach Wells with the first pick in the Third Round of the 2004 MLS SuperDraft. Wells, who helped UCLA win the NCAA Championship as a junior, was brought in as the keeper of the future.

In 2005, Zach Wells took over the starting role while Walker recovered from back surgery, Wells did a decent job, but was replaced as the first choice goalkeeper when Sakiewicz signed free agent and former USMNT and MetroStars starter Tony Meola. The signing of Meola made Walker expendable and was subsequently traded to the Columbus Crew.

"Tony's called us a few times, but it didn't get anywhere," Sakiewicz said. "We have two very good goalkeepers and we're not in the market."

Year Keeper Games Save % GAA W L T Sho
2000 Mike Ammann 22 67 1.61 11 9 1 2
2001 Tim Howard 26 77 1.33 13 10 3 4
2002 Tim Howard 27 72 1.61 11 14 2 4
2003 Tim Howard 13 77 1.33 6 3 4 3
2003 Jonny Walker 14 79 .95 4 5 5 4
2004 Jonny Walker 28 67 1.61 10 11 7 5
2005 Zach Wells 17 73 1.24 6 4 7 4
2005 Tony Meola 15 71 1.87 6 5 4 2

So there you have it, 13 years as General manager or President of an MLS team and 13 different starting Goalkeepers. That's counting Tim Howard's run of two and a half seasons and Zac MacMath's almost three years.

Despite of what Mr. Sakiewicz tells you in regards to him not bringing players in, we all know M'Bohli was his idea. No manager in their right mind would bring in a third number one keeper when what you need is a striker - especially one who is trying to win a permanent managerial job. It takes a special man with a special kind of love for the position to make that happen.

The lesson here is don't fall in love with the goalkeeper on a Nick Sakiewicz-run team. Chances are he will be replaced soon.