Photo courtesy Matt May / Tampa Bay Rowdies
The last line of defense can often be a deciding factor as to whether a team will end up in contention for a place in the USL Cup Playoffs, with some of the league’s busiest goalkeepers last season being part of teams that fell either just above or just below the cutoff line for the postseason.
Ahead of the 2018 USL regular season, which kicks off on Friday night, here are five goalkeepers who are likely to play important roles for their respective clubs this season.
Photo courtesy Darren Abate / San Antonio FC
The veteran Chilean goalkeeper brought stability to the Roughnecks' backline in his first season with the club, and in the offseason signed a two-year contract extension that will help provide continuity in an offseason that has seen numerous changes in front of him. Cerda tied for fourth in the USL with 90 saves a season ago, and seventh with nine shutouts as he regularly pulled off impressive stops to help keep the Roughnecks in contests. Still in his prime at 29 years old, Cerda’s ability to snuff out opportunities will be crucial again if Tulsa is to make it back-to-back appearances in the USL Cup Playoffs.
Photo courtesy Michael Rincon / Phoenix Rising FC
Sacramento needed a new face in goal this season after Evan Newton's departure to Cincinnati, and in Cohen picked up one of the league's top goalkeepers over the past two seasons. Republic FC fans know Cohen from his standout display two seasons ago that helped Orange County eliminate Sacramento in the postseason, but last season he reached new heights, claiming the USL Player of the Month award in September for Phoenix Rising FC. The 25-year-old has sat above the 70-percent mark in each of his first two full seasons in the league with 13 shutouts in 43 appearances, putting him in line to be a strong No. 1 for Head Coach Simon Elliott.
Photo courtesy David Calvert / Reno 1868 FC
The U.S. U20 international made 12 starts for Los Dos in 2017, his first starts since signing professionally with the team as a 15-year-old in 2015, and while his numbers didn’t immediately jump off the page there was enough visually that impressed about Lopez that highlighted his potential. Stepping into the No. 1 role full time for the Galaxy II should be the goal for Lopez in 2018, and with it improving on a 65.9 save percentage as the club looks to get back into playoff contention after a serious drop in form in 2017.
Photo courtesy Brett Hansbauer / FC Cincinnati
A Charlotte native, Brandon Miller had somewhat of a bounce-back year with Penn FC a season ago but will be aiming to continue his upswing into the new season as he joins the Independence. After sporting an 81.8 save percentage when claiming the 2015 USL Goalkeeper of the Year award, the past two seasons have seen Miller drop down below 70 percent. Getting back above that line could be key to the Independence’s defensive success and the continued success of the club overall. Miller will have competition in net with the presence of Colorado Rapids loanee Andrew Dykstra but should be looking to stamp his position as the club’s No. 1 early in the season.
Photo courtesy Nashville SC
Pickens was the first signing in club history when Nashville announced his addition from the Tampa Bay Rowdies this offseason, and the veteran goalkeeper will provide a solid backstop for the expansion side as it kicks off its inaugural professional season. Pickens' history with Head Coach Gary Smith brought him to Nashville, with the duo having won MLS Cup together in 2010 with the Colorado Rapids. With more than 250 professional appearances in his career from time with the Rapids, Rowdies following his time with the Chicago Fire, Pickens is one of the experienced heads on Nashville’s back line that should provide a foundation for immediate playoff contention.