Three of the five goals surrendered this season by Seattle Sounders FC came on shots of considerable ambition.
Two were struck from more than 30 yards away, and another came on the rebound of a wicked 30-yard shot that banged off the crossbar.
“One thing with shots from distance: Yeah, you have more time to react, but the ball moves a little more as well,” goalkeeper coach Tom Dutra said. “The ball against Houston, it’s off the crossbar: I told (goalkeeper Kasey Keller), ‘Sometimes you put your hands up and say it’s a good goal, it’s a goal of the year candidate, and you keep after it.’ That’s why in the warm-ups before games we’re always hitting balls from distance – because sometimes that’s the one. And if you’re a player and you don’t feel pressure, why not tee it up and see what happens.”
It was that lack of defensive pressure – not his 41-year-old keeper – that coach Sigi Schmid criticized after the season opener when Los Angeles’ Juninjo sizzled one in from 35 yards. In the third game, against Houston, Lovel Palmer launched one from the same distance before it slammed off the crossbar to Geoff Cameron, who sent the rebound into the goal.
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And Saturday at San Jose, it was Khari Stephenson who smacked one from 35 yards into the top far corner, despite a diving touch by Keller that couldn’t quite redirect it over the bar.
Dutra said he doesn’t believe Keller has allowed a soft goal this season.
“The goal against San Jose, that’s almost a goal-of-the-year candidate: upper V,” Dutra said. “And then you look at Juninjo and the bomb, and the ball moves. Juninjo, the next game, hit another one. When you’re feeling it, you’re feeling it.”
Through four games – with Keller playing every minute – the Sounders’ 1.25 goals-against average is tied for eighth in the 18-team league, and his 64.3 save percentage is 11th among MLS teams.
“We’ve had some great goals against us,” Keller said. “ Those are all cycles as well. Guys aren’t going to score great goals against us every week. Maybe we’ve just caught some guys at the wrong time.”
Naturally, the mark of a high-quality keeper isn’t only the number of goals allowed, but also the number of near-certain goals he somehow prevents.
Keller has had his share of those already. His nine saves are tied for sixth in the league. He stopped a penalty kick by New York’s Thierry Henry. And maybe most impressively, he sprawled to knock away a point-blank, one-on-one, in-the-box shot Saturday by defending MLS Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski.
“He surprised me a little bit on the Wondolowski save,” Schmid said. “I thought he did well by dragging his arm and leaving it behind him. It’s experience. You can read tendencies and you face so many shots over a career. I thought he came up with a couple of big saves.”
Keller is likely to get several more chances Saturday, when the Sounders return to Qwest Field to meet Chicago. Over two games this season, Chicago has scored four goals, fired 25 shots and put 12 of those on goal.
“Sure, I’d like to have a game that I’m sitting back there and you win 4-0 and I just distribute a few balls,” Keller said. “But if I had a choice between having two teams that barely got any shots off or a game like (the other day at San Jose), I’ll take the game like the other day all day long. I just hope we come out and continue to build off of the Houston game at home and bury a few goals for our fans.”
Fredy Montero (wrist) is unlikely to be ready by Saturday, Schmid said. Mauro Rosales could start in Montero’s place as he did last weekend. However, Schmid also indicated there could be other changes in the Seattle lineup. The Sounders’ reserve match scheduled for Sunday at Chivas USA has been postponed. A new date hasn’t been announced.