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Atlanta United's Goalkeeper Problem?

Updated: Jul 28, 2023

Photo by Ira L. Black - Corbis/Getty Images

After a series of questionable goal concessions against an injury-wracked New England Revolution, Atlanta United's defense and goalkeeper have come under fire. Dirty South Soccer in particular questioned Atlanta United captain Brad Guzan's future at the club after the ex-international keeper made zero saves to earn himself an abysmal 3.8 rating on FotMob. So is it time for the mother-loving wall to be replaced by a younger shot-stopper? No, Brad Guzan is still a great keeper, an important leader, and is being let down by a poor defense.

Looking at the Season

Why people are calling for Guzan to be replaced is understandable; Guzan is aging and Atlanta has not had a stellar season defensively. The 38-year-old keeper has had a rough time this year which was hampered by an MCL injury against NYCFC. When playing, Guzan has only managed a disappointing 56.3% save rate. That puts him in the bottom four percent of MLS keepers. In addition, he concedes 1.56 goals per 90 which is in the 27th percentile for MLS goalies this year. The porous defense is also hurting the team that manages 2 goals per game on average, 3rd in the MLS, and 1.8 goal concessions per game, tied for worst. That being said there is a reason for this poor defensive run and it isn't the goalie.

All athletes face some issues when recovering from injuries, which is too bad because before his injury Guzan was playing well and only conceded 5 goals in the 6 non-Columbus Crew games. Then in his first game against back from injury, he played quite well, making 4 saves and only conceding 1 goal against an xGOT of 2.13. After the game people were singing his praises with Joe Patrick titling a section of his takeaways "Brad Guzan makes a difference". Now after one bad game people are calling for his removal, this isn't fair at all and is a prime example of why it takes a special type of person to play goalie.

In addition, Brad Guzan is also continuously exposed by a less-than-lockdown defense. This is shown by a wonderful stat called post-shot expected goals per shot on target. It is a measure of the difficulty of the average shot the keeper faces (not including penalties) and Brad Guzan's is astronomically high with a .38 PSxG/SoT. That puts him in the 99th percentile, or in other terms he faces the hardest average shot of all goalkeepers in Major League Soccer. This also is why both Quentin Westberg and Clement Diop have had poor stats this year as well. If between three starting caliber goalies nobody can put up decent stats the problem is somewhere else.

This makes sense as Brad Guzan has been improving in his previous seasons with Atlanta United. In his 2018 and 2019 seasons, he was very consistent with little change year to year (and an MLS Cup). Then 2020 was an absolute mess with Atlanta going from 3rd in the league in 2019 to 21st in 2020. But after that, he improved dramatically and had his best full season with Atlanta United in which his 80.3% save percentage put him in the 99th percentile in MLS that year.

And we haven't even talked about his leadership both on and off the field. While it is impossible to quantify his impact as the team captain it is hard to argue that his leadership isn't valuable to this young squad. Other than Quentin Westberg and Ozzie Alonso, Brad Guzan is the only player over 30 on the entire roster. Brad Guzan also brings the average age of Atlanta's starting 11 against New England up by over a year.

What to Do?

Guzan is currently on a contract running through the end of this season so Garth Lagerwey and the front office have three clear options: They can either replace Guzan in the summer, replace him in the winter, or they can extend his contract further. And the answer is option 3, to extend Guzan, for 3 reasons. Despite pushing 40 Guzan should be extended for the sake of contract situations and roster management, his leadership, and the ability to work on the defense. It isn't worth trying to sign a new keeper over the summer because of roster management. Then in the winter, there will be multiple slots opening such as Miles Robinson's. This means that unless we extend Miles we will be signing a new center back which should help the defense. Therefore Atlanta will be able to help with the defense so that Guzan can be exposed less and we can still take advantage of his leadership and shot-stopping abilities for at least another year or two before he retires.

[Stats from FBREF]

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