USMNT analysis

A look at the USMNT goalkeeping situation as questions surround the top choices

As everyone knows, the USMNT goalkeeping situation isn't great as we approach two major tournaments in the Nations League final stages and the Copa America. ASN's Brian Sciaretta looks at all the options and how things could shape up 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
February 01, 2024
12:05 PM

IT’S THE TOUGHEST position right now to analyze on the U.S. national team because there are no easy answers, but goalkeeping is of critical importance as the depth chart is unstable at a point when the Nations League finals and Copa America are quickly approaching. Things can, and often do, change quickly but right now none of the options inspire a lot of confidence.

On thing we are seeing is that there is a lot of player movement and that always brings uncertainty about playing time and the ability to adjust into a new setting. We also have a time where others haven’t played in a long time while other options are very young. Both of these issues also create uncertainty about the immediate future.

Long term, it will probably sort itself out, but there are pressing demands in the short term and there are no good answers. Goalkeeping is important not simply for the demands of stopping shots, but goalkeeping also affects the confidence level of the entire team. When a team lacks confidence in its goalkeeper, it throws everything and everyone else off.

But let’s look at where things stand.


 The Current Group


Matt Turner: Things have not gone well for Turner since he arrived in England in the summer of 2022. It was expected he would be Arsenal’s backup but also that he would be given cup games. But eventually he lost his starting cup game role and then was glued to the bench. After a move to Nottingham Forest, he continued to struggle. The team initially brought in Odysseas Vlachodimos from Benfica and the Greek No. 1 replaced Turner. But after Vlachodimos had a terrible run, Turner regained the job. In January, Turner continued to not play well and on deadline day, the club acquired Matz Sels from Strasbourg.

What this means is that Turner is now either the No. 2 or No. 3 (which carries the risk of not being registered) depending on how Forest sees him compared with Vlachodimos. How long will Turner remain at the club if he is the backup?

For the U.S. national team, Turner will not be in a position to regain confidence heading into any of the upcoming tournaments.

Ethan Horvath: After leading Luton Town to promotion last season while on loan from Nottingham Forest, Horvath was given a raw deal. He was told he was in Luton Town’s plans but the club changed its mind late in the game and declined the option to buy on his loan. Upon returning to Forest, he fell to the No. 3 keeper and wasn’t even registered for the first half of the season.

At the end of the January window, Horvath sealed a move to Cardiff City which sits midtable at 14th place in the Championship. There he should be able to push Jak Alnwick for the starting job as Alnwick has not been great this season. But how long will it take Horvath to compete? That remains to be seen.

The good news is that he’s done well in the Championship before – with Luton. But it’s hard to be completely optimistic as Horvath has seen all his recent clubs pass on him to be their No. 1. Club Brugge felt the need to spend a fortune on Mignolet. Then he lost his starting job at Forest to Brice Samba. Then at Luton, the club eventually passed on him after promotion. After returning to Forest, he lost his No. 2 job.

Will this be the time a club decides that Horvath is the No. 1 for good? Maybe, but that won’t be an immediate decision. Horvath will have to play well and it is unclear how rusty he will be after not even suiting up for a game since August.

This makes him an uncertain bet for the USMNT too. It’s clear that Gregg Berhalter likes Horvath as he was called-up throughout the fall despite not playing. Berhalter was clearly betting that Horvath’s problems were short term. But Horvath’s leash is not infinite either and if Horvath doesn’t fix his career at Cardiff, he’s in trouble.  

Zack Steffen: The former USMNT No. 1 moved to Colorado and this needed to happen after Middlesbrough passed on Steffen after his loan from Manchester City. But Steffen has been injured in his return to Manchester City and has not played. He now returns to Colorado as the team’s number one. But there are two issues for Steffen. He is coming off a very long layoff and it’s unclear how he’ll respond. The second is that injuries (mostly his knee) have been bothering him for years. Will that continue to be an issue?

If Steffen returns to top form, plays well in Colorado, and if has no problems with his injury, then he is in a good position. But those are big “ifs.”

Sean Johnson:  Is mostly an afterthought, and that is fair. But he did go to the World Cup after Steffen was dropped and he has the benefit of being healthy, having a starting job, having familiarity with the team, and being a known commodity. But Toronto is a bad team and Johnson wasn’t solid in 2023, but to be fair, it’s hard to play well on a dysfunctional team.


The young/emerging options


Gaga Slonina: Still just 19, Gaga Slonina is starting for Eupen in a relegation battle in Belgium. At times he has looked very good. At times, he looks very shaky and mistake prone. This is to be expected for a teenage goalkeeper. Between Chicago and now Eupen, he’s made nearly 60 first-team appearances. For the USMNT, it’s hard to see him as a current option to start no matter how high his ceiling is. He’s still a teenager and needs time to refine his skills and his consistency. For 2024, the Olympics should be his priority internationally.

Drake Callender: The Sacramento native has emerged as a good MLS goalkeeper with Inter Miami. With his size and athleticism, he can make tough game-changing saves. He’s been around the national team in 2023 but has yet to make his debut. He’s not perfect, but with his age, athleticism, and the uncertainty of the pool, he should stay around the program in 2024.

Patrick Schulte: While more mature at 22, Schulte has still only had a first team starting job for one season. It was a very good season and he won MLS Cup with Columbus. He’s an Olympic option and another player who needs time to develop without the rush.

Roman Celentano: A bit under the radar internationally, Celentano has the starting job for a good Cincinnati team and has steadily improved. He has been part of the last two January camps where the staff have had the chance to evaluate him. He’s not flashy, but he is generally consistent and steady. He should have a long career ahead of him at just age 23.

Chris Brady: has the benefit of having the starting job at Chicago at just 19 years old. For now, he’s probably behind Schulte and Slonina for an Olympic spot, but things can change very quickly for young goalkeepers. He’s probably not close to the USMNT right now, but Brady could have a high ceiling and is in a good position to develop.

Diego Kochen: at just 17, he has a long way to go. But he’s making the bench for Barcelona and should be one of the U.S. U-20 goalkeepers this cycle. He’s one for the long-term future, but certainly worth keeping an eye on for the U-20 cycle and the following Olympic cycle.


Nations League/Copa America


But how about the team’s more pressing needs for the big tournaments inside the next five-six months? That is going to be a big challenge for Berhalter.

My guess is that it will be Turner, Steffen, Horvath for the Nations League. If the tournament were starting today, Turner would still be the No. 1, but there are so many moving parts that things will change quickly. Turner is still the incumbent.

If Steffen and Horvath play well out of the gate, Turner’s leash could be very short. It’s not inconceivable that Turner might not start the Nations League games depending on the other players.

If Horvath or Steffen don’t play well inside of the next month, it’s possible that Berhalter then dips into other options after Turner. But that will also likely be dictated by form.

Berhalter might feel the need to have a more stable backup option around the team in Callender or Celentano who are always healthy and who always start. He also might let Schulte and Slonina work with the Olympic team through the summer.

There are so many moving parts and the next six weeks will tell us a lot. Then with the Copa America, there will be a lot more known about each of the options by that point.


Moving forward


Over the long-term beyond the Copa America, things will probably be okay. There are enough options where some players will rise, others will fall, others will sort of stagnate. Most importantly, there will be clarity.

One thing that the team misses desperately from its goalkeeping pool is a No. 3 option who is older, better than average, a lock starter for years with his club, and is known/trusted by the entire pool. Nick Rimando was perfect for this role.

There are different philosophies on how to handle the third goalkeeping spot. One is to have the third best goalkeeper in the pool. The second is to have a young and experimental keeper to prepare for the future. The third is to have an older veteran who might not be the third best goalkeeper in the pool, but who is known and trusted by the entire pool of players, always has a starting job at his club, is competent, is a regular call-up to the USMNT, can be a calming presence in a tough situation if he is forced to play, and who is not a malcontent if he sits the bench for long stretches.

A keeper like that sets the floor of how bad things can get with a goalkeeping pool. It is good to have a several young and prime age goalkeepers pushing themselves, but behind them, it is reassuring to have a reliable and familiar hand in case of tough times. These players can then start for stretches as the rest of the pool works itself out.

We will see how the goalkeeper pool sorts itself out, but if the No. 3 goalkeeper was viewed this way, it would prevent a situation like now when every option has more questions than answers.

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