Swiss model goalkeeper and Swiss cheese in tale of two MLS goalkeepers

Ryan Baldi
MLS was a tale of two goalkeepers.
MLS was a tale of two goalkeepers.

It was a dismal weekend for US soccer on the international stage as the USMNT were thumped 5-1 by Colombia in a Copa America warm-up. There was no pause in the domestic action, though. The reduced four-game MLS schedule delivered a skid-stopping victory and mixed fortunes between the sticks.


MLS winners

Roman’s Empire
St. Louis City and the Portland Timbers played out a 0-0 draw at CITYPARK on Saturday in what was a scrappy, disjointed, unremarkable encounter best characterised by the eight yellow cards handed out by referee Ismir Pekmic.

But if this match was memorable for anything, it was the commanding performance of the league’s best goalkeeper.

So far this season, Roman Burki hasn’t quite hit the heights that led to the former Borussia Dortmund man being named the MLS Goalkeeper of the Year last term, but for the visit of Phil Neville’s Timbers, the experienced Swiss was at his best to shut out the Western Conference’s second-highest-scoring side.

He beat away crosses, repelled efforts from short and long range and, in the 40th minute, pulled off a point-blank block to deny Antony when the Portland winger was left wide open and clean through on goal; an offside flag was raised but no one noticed until after the play was dead.

St. Louis ought to have won. They had two efforts cleared off the line, one goal disallowed and a 74th-minute Eduard Lowen free-kick that crashed back off the post. But while Bradley Carnell’s side will have been disappointed not to have taken three points, they never looked like losing thanks to Burki, who recorded his fifth clean sheet of the season.

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Sporting chance of a revival
Heading into this past MLS weekend, no team was more in need of a win than Sporting Kansas City. They’d gone 10 games without one: a miserable run that included just two draws and that brought the job of the longest-serving manager in MLS, Peter Vermes, into question.

The last time SKC won a game, Taylor Swift was not yet a Forbes-confirmed billionaire, Scottie Scheffler had never seen the inside of a jail cell and the Drake-Kendrick beef was only just beginning to boil over.

But finally, 71 days after they beat Toronto in Canada, Sporting KC were victorious again on Saturday.

It initially looked like being an evening of more misery for the home side at Children’s Mercy Park, with Seattle Sounders striker Jordan Morris racing clear to fire the visitors into a 12th-minute lead.

SKC responded seven minutes later. Former Dundee United and Derby County midfielder Johnny Russell, who came off the bench to score a spectacular goal in the previous weekend’s loss to Minnesota United, fired in a left-footer from 20 yards.

Kansas City controlled much of the game from then on. They outshot their opponents by 16 to 10 and landed four efforts on target while Seattle didn’t force veteran SKC goalkeeper Tim Melia into action again after scoring early. Their dominance eventually paid dividends in the 85th minute when Alenis Vargas broke in behind the Sounders’ defence and smashed home a long-awaited winner at the near post.

“Look, I think this is a good team,” Vermes said post-match. “The issue last year, which was a little bit different, for the longest time, I had to be the one that tried to keep telling them that. This win should reinforce that to them, that they’re good. When they want to play, they can play.”

SKC certainly came to play on Saturday. But they received more than a little help in snapping their losing streak from an unexpected source…


MLS losers

Total Frei-up
Stefan Frei is one of the most decorated goalkeepers in MLS history. A two-time MLS Cup winner, an MLS Cup MVP and the Golden Ball winner of a 2022 CONCACAF Champions Cup triumph, the 38-year-old Seattle Sounders star’s legacy can absorb the odd shocker.

Which is just as well, because the Swiss shot-stopper was at fault for both opposition goals in his side’s 2-1 loss to struggling Sporting Kansas City on Saturday.

First, Russell’s speculative daisy-cutter from outside the box appeared to slip straight through his grasp. The experienced Scot can rattle them home from range as well as anyone in MLS, but this was a tame effort by his standards and one Frei would have expected to repel with ease.

Then, five minutes plus stoppage time shy of securing a valuable away point, he offered as much resistance to Vargas’ thumped effort as a soggy Weetabix. Granted, the 20-year-old Honduran forward struck his shot with considerable venom. But it arrived from a tight angle and Frei seemed to have positioned himself perfectly to block it at his near post. Instead, the ball rattled between the goalkeeper’s legs and dribbled over the goal line.

It was one to forget for the Frei and it’s now one win in five for Seattle.


Red-faced Red Bulls
Fourth in the Eastern Conference, the New York Red Bulls have enjoyed a solid start to the 2024 MLS season. A victory over the bottom-placed New England Revolution on Saturday, in fact, would have seen them equal the points tally at the same stage of the campaign of their 2018 Supporters’ Shield-winning side.

And with the three teams above them in the standings – Inter Miami, FC Cincinnati and neighbours New York City FC – all out of action this past weekend, three points at Gillette Stadium would have seen them lay down a marker in the race for the No.1 seed.

In the end, though, the Red Bulls were thoroughly outplayed and deservedly beaten by the lowly Revs. They mustered just a 41% share of possession and while they registered more shots than their opponents – 15 to 13 – stand-in NYRB goalkeeper Ryan Meara was forced into several impressive stops to keep the score level.

Meara’s resistance was broken in the 81st minute, when Emmanuel Boateng volleyed in from a right-wing cross by Carles Gil, the former Aston Villa man and 2021 MLS MVP who was outstanding throughout.

In fairness to the Red Bulls, international call-ups meant they were without arguably their two best players – the Swede Emil Forsberg and shock Scotland call-up Lewis Morgan. But with the MLS schedule making no allowances for the upcoming Copa America and Euro 2024, their display in New England doesn’t bode well for New York’s prospects while the tournaments take place.