'Caps goalkeeping depth 'breeds healthy competition'

An in-depth look at the club's goalkeeping structure

Marco Carducci

Photo Credit: 
(Bob Frid/Vancouver Whitecaps FC)

VANCOUVER, BC – There are few positions in soccer more important to a team’s on-field success than the one between the posts.

More than any other player on the pitch, goalkeepers have the ability to set the tone of a match – or potentially steal one – by making a big save when their team really needs it.

Look no further than Danish goalkeeper David Ousted's spectacular sprawling stop late in the first half Saturday against San Jose. The match was scoreless at the time and the 'Caps went on to win 2-0. It wouldn't have been possible without Ousted's moment of brilliance. 

As the “last line of defence,” goalkeepers are also tasked with organizing the back four and communicating any tactical adjustments that may be necessary.

It’s a position of immense responsibility and – by consequence – a position of immense pressure.

For Vancouver Whitecaps FC, it’s also a position of immense strength.

Couple Brad Knighton’s emergence as a bonafide MLS starter with the recent arrival of Ousted, who earned his first MLS victory and clean sheet Saturday in his home debut, and it’s easy to see why.

That’s not to mention MLS veteran Joe Cannon, who has appeared in 10 matches this season, and 23-year-old Canadian national team shotstopper Simon Thomas, who continues to tread in the right direction.

And that’s just the first team.

Two of the club’s Residency keepers, Sean Melvin and Marco Carducci, are coming off splendid seasons in the United States Soccer Development Academy (USSDA) – America’s premier youth academy system.

Melvin, 19, started all 20 of his appearances with the Whitecaps FC U-18’s this season and played an integral part in their second straight appearance at USSDA Finals Week. The Victoria, B.C. native finished the 2012-13 campaign with 15 victories, seven clean sheets, and a sparkling 0.769 goals against average.

Meet Sean Melvin

For his efforts, Melvin was recognized as one of MLSSoccer.com’s five players to watch from USSDA Finals Week.

“Goalkeepers rarely stand out in these type of competitions but Melvin certainly looked the part of an MLS netminder,” they wrote. “The Victoria, B.C., native has a big frame, can move well, commands his box and is quick off his line to claim balls or stop shots. On his way to allowing just two group-stage goals, Melvin highlighted his week by stopping a Alex Muyl penalty kick in a 1-0 win for Vancouver.”

The 6-foot-4 netminder recently committed to the University of North Carolina Wilmington – coincidentally, the same school Knighton attended. Former standout Residency keeper Callum Irving also just finished his first season at the University of Kentucky.

Although they’ve moved on for now, these players can still train with the club in the summer – like Irving did – and the ‘Caps maintain their long-term rights.   

“It’s the best of both worlds for us,” Whitecaps FC Residency goalkeeper coach Raegyn Hall told whitecapsfc.com. “As goalkeepers, you still have those few more years to starting coming into your prime. An opportunity for them to go away and play games and gain more experience is fantastic. If the first team decides that they’re ready to come back in, then they can make that decision and bring the boys back.”

With Melvin’s looming departure, the door opens for Carducci to step in and fill the void with the U-18s. By all accounts, he’s more than ready for the promotion.

Carducci, the 2012 Canadian U-17 Male Player of the Year, continues to cement his status as one of Canada’s brightest up-and-coming netminders. The 17-year-old shotstopper has been a model of consistency for the ‘Caps U-16s over the past two years. He also impressed in limited time with the U-18s this season, posting two clean sheets and allowing just two goals in four appearances.

Like Melvin, Carducci also appeared in a few United Soccer Leagues (USL) Premier Development League (PDL) matches with the ‘Caps U-23 squad. He didn’t look out of place, stopping 15 of the 17 shots he faced.

“The club has paved the way for young goalkeepers playing in that environment,” said Hall, who also serves as the club’s high performance goalkeeper coach. “When they’ve gone in, they’ve been very successful.”

Not surprisingly, Carducci was recently called up to the Canadian U-17 national team camp as they continue preparations for the 2013 FIFA U-17 World Cup. The Calgary native wore the armband for the Red and White during April’s CONCACAF U-17 Championship.

“Full credit to Marco. It’s his attitude, mentality and approach each and every day,” Hall said. “He has such a very professional approach. He’s very mature for his age. He works very hard and he’s very determined to be successful.”

From top to bottom, it wouldn’t be stretch to suggest that the ‘Caps boast one of the deepest goalkeeper pools in all of Major League Soccer.

Part of that has to do with attracting quality athletes through effective recruiting and scouting, but it’s also about the club’s commitment to developing them.

Experience Marius Rovde

That’s where Hall and Whitecaps FC goalkeeper coach Marius Rovde come in.  

The two collaborate on a weekly basis to keep tabs on the young goalkeepers in the system. Hall said he has developed a very good understanding of what Rovde is looking for at the first team level.

“Ultimately, that’s our goal … to push players onto the first team,” Hall said. “We have to have goalkeepers that the first team wants.”

The club’s philosophy is simple: it’s all about having the right approach to training and putting in the necessary work to keep getting better every day. Repetition is also key.

“For a goalkeeper, it’s not so hard physically … it’s mentally draining,” Rovde told whitecapsfc.com. “So you can go a little bit harder in training.”

The Residency keepers, for example, are on the field with the team five times a week. They also do three extra morning sessions with the strength and conditioning coach, have monthly sessions with a sports psychologist, and do video work whenever possible. That’s in addition to games and a full school schedule.

The first team goalkeepers, meanwhile, have on average four more sessions than the rest of the team in a week, according to Rovde.

“I don’t think anybody realizes how much work goes into bringing it all together on the field,” first team goalkeeper Simon Thomas told whitecaspfc.com.  “There are so many different situations you encounter in the game … there’s a lot of work physically and mentally you have to do on add off the pitch to be ready for it.”

Thomas, who was a member of the inaugural Whitecaps FC Residency squad, has yet to see any minutes at the MLS level. He’s still waiting patiently for his turn. In the meantime, the Victoria, B.C. native said he’s just trying to learn everything he can from the team’s more experienced keepers.

“Whatever club you’re at, nobody is trying to stich each other up,” he said. “You’re trying to grow and you’re trying to be better than the next. Because there’s only one position … I think that’s the whole thing. It breeds healthy competition.”

And that’s the main reason why Hall believes the club continues to develop so many quality young netminders.

“They drive each other day in and day out,” he said. “We’re very demanding of them as well, but I think overall they see the success of the older goalkeepers and the younger goalkeepers are driven to be like that. I think that’s a big part of their overall success as a group."