Fewer Saves the Better

For every 10 kids out there dreaming of the day they deliver the big game-winning goal, there’s one moppet visualizing the sensational dive that saves the day.

These Tim Howard and Hope Solo wannabes may see themselves flinging themselves from post to post, effectively serving as a force field denying balls entry to the ol’ onion bag.

Nobody beats Barry Watling, at least not his 16 saves made vs. Denver in 1974.

Sometimes dreams come true, such as Kasey Keller’s signature performance versus Brazil in 1998. He saved everything, secured the shutout and the U.S. won, 1-0. But a busy day at the keeper’s office more often ends in defeat, such as Howard’s fate following his World Cup record 16 stops against Belgium.

So it should come no real surprise that in tying the Sounders FC record with 10 saves at Columbus, Stefan Frei was unable save the day. In fact, given that Frei’s made a total of 18 saves in the previous three matches, it’s a bit of a wonder that Seattle had won three straight.

Historically, high counts of saves tend to translate into losses.  To wit:

• Of the top saves totals for the NASL Sounders, seven of 11 were in defeat

• In the A-League/USL-1 era, the Sounders went 3-5-1 when keepers made 10 or more saves

• For Sounders FC, three of the four matches generating nine or more Rave saves are losses, and 10 goals were scored in those defeats

Of course a keeper’s odds of earning a win are best when he has little to do.

The exception for Sounders FC was Michael Gspurning’s nine-save shutout at RSL in the 2012 playoffs. It’s the only shutout among those games where Sounders keepers were required to make seven or more stops. Frei’s 8-save wins at Colorado and NYCFC this season and Open Cup victory over Portland last summer each featured three goals from the attack. Translation: Unlike his stint in Toronto, he’s getting strong goal support.

All saves, of course, are not created equal. Some demand a full stretch effort while another may induce a yawn. However, an abundance of save opportunities does indicate the opposition has ample time and space to get a good look at goal before firing.

So while there’s a Dempsey Watch on his projected season goal tally, better keep one eye on Frei’s numbers because he’s currently the MLS leader in saves and on pace to obliterate Kasey Keller’s sum of 110 in 2011.

For those kids channeling their inner Keller or Frei, keep on diving. But know this: In 41 years of Sounders and FC Seattle soccer, there’s been only five occasions where someone made 10 or more saves and escaped with a clean sheet. Rare indeed.