The Year of the Keeper/D-Mid/Coach/Ref

Season's not over yet, I realize that. In the last two or three weeks of the season, we might see an orgy of goals that would make Pele himself go, "Wow, that's a lot of goals."

But mosey on over to the MLS stats page and take a gander at the goalkeeping stats. Because those numbers are completely freaking ridiculous. We've got three guys cruising along at less than a goal a game, and another four pretty much within an eyelash of dipping below 1.0. For seven teams, that's effectively a shutout once every two games.

It was even sillier last year. Five guys ended the season with less than a goal a game. But before 2009, that had only happened six times in MLS history. And that's counting Jonny Walker in 2003, who got a 0.95 but only appeared in 14 games.

Maybe MLS keepers are better now. Well, maybe, except a few of those same names from ten years ago are still around (Thornton, Hartman, Onstad, Reis, Rimando, etc.) and it wasn't as if there were terrible keepers in the early days of MLS. But Brad Friedel's league-leading 1.21 in 1997 would currently be good for 11th place right now, between Jimmy Nielsen and Stefan Frei.

If this were baseball, I'd say the forwards had all been on steroids and this was the year the league finally started testing.

When something goes to happening almost never, to happening several times a year? That requires some kind of explanation. I don't want to diminish the credit that MLS keepers deserve...but I'm about to do exactly that. Sorry.

But - and this is where I put a little too much work into this - I think it's not the players, or even the coaches. I think it's the refereeing.

At the bottom of this post is a table comparing the number of shots keepers face per game. That number has noticeably decreased over the years. It used to be keepers would be thrilled to only face five shots a game - now, they'd probably be pissed off about it. The better teams in the league right now face less than two shots a half.

I've been tedious about this for a while, but I'm sick of "letting them play," because the opposite happens. I think the numbers tell the story. Coaches and players like to foul in the midfield, destroying chances before they start. Every team in MLS does this - the numbers show this across the board, good teams to bad, from teams that pretend to be free-flowing and exciting to teams coached by Bruce Arena.

Until refs start punishing midfield fouls, and until the league and Federation start backing up refs who hand out cards, we're going to see fewer and fewer scoring chances. It would be different if these scoring chances were broken up by fantastic saves, but the numbers don't show that. It would be different if these scoring chances were broken up because of the unprecedented defensive talent MLS is putting forth these days, but I regret to say that probably isn't the case.

Maybe MLS forwards are worse than ever, but I dunno - Digital Takawira, Tanque Hurtado and Roy Lassiter were once stars in this league.

The other factor might be expansion, but that should have lowered the talent pool on both sides of the ball. You really don't even have these big outliers, where one team in particular is unusually conservative or unusually adventurous.

2010 Games Shots Shots Per Game
Hartman 20 68 3.40
Rimando 24 89 3.71
Ricketts 27 96 3.56
Busch 14 76 5.43
Pickens 26 104 4.00
Condoul 25 126 5.04
Hesmer 27 104 3.85
Keller 27 105 3.89
Cannon 12 52 4.33
Nielsen 26 107 4.12
Frei 27 140 5.19
Johnson 12 63 5.25
Dykstra 14 63 4.50
Thornton 20 82 4.10
Burpo 11 64 5.82
Perkins 19 97 5.11
Onstad 22 86 3.91
Seitz 22 102 4.64
Reis 14 76 5.43
TOTAL 389 1700 4.37
2009
Thornton 27 106 3.93
Keller 29 104 3.59
Hesmer 19 86 4.53
Reis 24 137 5.71
Onstad 30 118 3.93
Ricketts 26 108 4.15
Busch 30 137 4.57
Rimando 26 102 3.92
Pickens 19 61 3.21
Wicks 19 104 5.47
Hartman 30 147 4.90
Frei 26 136 5.23
Sala 14 63 4.50
Burse 17 89 5.24
Cannon 28 144 5.14
Cepero 13 83 6.38
TOTAL 377 1725 4.58
2008
Onstad 24 100 4.17
Busch 30 155 5.17
Hesmer 29 130 4.48
Condoul 17 75 4.41
Cannon 30 162 5.40
Hartman 30 156 5.20
Rimando 30 135 4.50
Sala 28 129 4.61
Guzan 15 68 4.53
Reis 28 145 5.18
Sutton 24 151 6.29
Conway 28 140 5.00
Crayton 12 62 5.17
Wells 17 84 4.94
Burpo 13 61 4.69
Cronin 22 136 6.18
TOTAL 377 1889 5.01
2007
Onstad 27 107 3.96
Guzan 27 112 4.15
Condoul 30 152 5.07
Conway 14 71 5.07
Perkins 29 149 5.14
Pickens 27 133 4.93
Rimando 27 183 6.78
Reis 30 163 5.43
Hesmer 20 100 5.00
Hartman 30 155 5.17
Cannon 29 165 5.69
Sala 18 93 5.17
Stamatopoulos 12 61 5.08
Wattereus 18 9 5.00
TOTAL 338 1734 5.13
2006
Conway 12 66 5.50
Reis 32 176 5.50
Perkins 30 134 4.47
Hartman 28 120 4.29
Burpo 19 81 4.26
Sala 28 127 4.54
Onstad 32 125 3.91
Thornton 24 116 4.83
Garlick 31 151 4.87
Oshoniyi 29 136 4.69
Meola 20 120 6.00
Guzan 13 68 5.23
Cannon 28 141 5.04
TOTAL 326 1561 4.79
2005
Onstad 32 136 4.25
Walker 16 84 5.25
Reis 31 150 4.84
Rimando 30 127 4.23
Cannon 27 132 4.89
Wells 17 90 5.29
Garlick 28 135 4.82
Oshoniyi 32 156 4.88
Hartman 31 137 4.42
Thornton 27 124 4.59
Meola 15 111 7.40
Guzan 24 150 6.25
Countess 27 166 6.15
TOTAL 337 1698 5.04
2004
Rimando 13 39 3.00
Meola 21 98 4.67
Cannon 30 182 6.07
Busch 29 163 5.62
Onstad 25 130 5.20
Hartman 30 156 5.20
Reis 24 129 5.38
Ring 28 168 6.00
Cassar 19 92 4.84
Garlick 12 70 5.83
Walker 28 144 5.14
Perkins 16 78 4.88
TOTAL 275 1449 5.27
2003
Walker 14 69 4.93
Onstad 27 132 4.89
Rimando 25 129 5.16
Hartman 30 184 6.13
Thornton 30 160 5.33
Howard 13 92 7.08
Brown 25 132 5.28
Meola 30 165 5.50
Busch 24 139 5.79
Garlick 26 121 4.65
TOTAL 244 1323 5.42
2002
Hartman 18 108 6.00
Busch 14 80 5.71
Cannon 26 136 5.23
Thornton 27 164 6.07
Brown 16 102 6.38
Meola 17 88 5.18
Rimando 28 183 6.54
Jordan 27 158 5.85
Garlick 15 92 6.13
Howard 27 195 7.22
Kramer 13 75 5.77
Presthus 15 103 6.87
Oshoniyi 13 80 6.15
Sommer 12 87 7.25
TOTAL 268 1651 6.16
2001
Thornton 27 145 5.37
Cannon 25 134 5.36
Rimando 25 155 6.20
Howard 26 190 7.31
Presthus 25 178 7.12
Reis 16 76 4.75
Meola 17 111 6.53
Jordan 26 138 5.31
Ammann 19 111 5.84
Garlick 26 205 7.88
Brown 22 179 8.14
TOTAL 254 1622 6.39
2000
Meola 31 162 5.23
Hartman 26 126 4.85
Thornton 25 127 5.08
Cannon 26 181 6.96
Garlick 32 247 7.72
Causey 22 110 5.00
Simpson 13 59 4.54
Ammann 22 162 7.36
Kramer 20 125 6.25
Jordan 31 188 6.06
Dougherty 25 170 6.80
Rimando 22 150 6.82
Brown 13 102 7.85
Presthus 20 127 6.35
TOTAL 328 2036 6.21
1999
Hartman 32 150 4.69
Hahnemann 13 85 6.54
Jordan 29 172 5.93
Thornton 30 137 4.57
Dougherty 31 152 4.90
Feuer 19 99 5.21
Garlick 28 193 6.89
Cannon 24 129 5.38
Presthus 26 129 4.96
Snitko 16 95 5.94
Cassar 15 83 5.53
Lagerwey 16 107 6.69
Zenga 25 140 5.60
Ammann 24 155 6.46
TOTAL 328 1826 5.57
1998
Thornton 25 118 4.72
Hartman 29 146 5.03
Garlick 25 129 5.16
Ammann 27 134 4.96
Kramer 24 132 5.50
Ravelli 23 179 7.78
Sommer 21 143 6.81
Dodd 25 182 7.28
Hahnemann 28 200 7.14
Cassar 21 151 7.19
Meola 31 236 7.61
Feuer 26 180 6.92
TOTAL 305 1930 6.33
1997
Friedel 29 174 6.00
Zenga 22 114 5.18
Campos 19 91 4.79
Hahnemann 25 154 6.16
Ammann 29 160 5.52
Dodd 30 251 8.37
Meola 30 204 6.80
Kramer 21 123 5.86
Garlick 14 82 5.86
Salzwedel 20 118 5.90
Dougherty 25 166 6.64
TOTAL 264 1637 6.20
1996
Campos 24 133 5.54
Salzwedel 14 80 5.71
Meola 29 191 6.59
Dodd 31 235 7.58
Simpson 15 70 4.67
Dougherty 28 187 6.68
Heaney 19 130 6.84
Liner 20 119 5.95
Lagerwey 23 134 5.83
St. Andre 15 91 6.07
Woods 23 149 6.48
Causey 19 116 6.11
Oshoniyi 13 102 7.85
TOTAL 273 1737 6.36