Picking a goalkeeper of the year is fraught with uncertainty, as any of a number of subjective criteria can be considered in making one's choice. Some No. 1's command the penalty area with animated gestures and fierce lectures to their teammates following defensive miscues, while others stand quiet between the posts making only the necessary moves to keep the ball from going into the back of the net.
Basing the decision purely on the available stats can also be a bit tricky, where favorable results in metrics such as saves-per-game and total shutouts act to skew the rankings toward ‘keepers that play behind weak defenses and strong defenses respectively. Given how disparate the reasons can be to justify whether one goalkeeper is better than another, it was not surprising to learn that SB Nation's panel of soccer writers could not reach a consensus on naming the 2011 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, and instead honored both Kasey Keller of the Seattle Sounders and Nick Rimando of Real Salt Lake as joint winners of the award.
A quick glance at the table shows that this year's voting did not break down into a two-horse race. Instead, a total of six goalkeepers finished with double-digit scores, with any one of that sextet arguably deserving of the award. Both Keller and Rimando had exceptional seasons within the framework of MLS, but also in outside competitions during the 2011 calendar.
While Rimando helped RSL to the finals of the CONCACAF Champions League earlier this spring, Keller led Seattle to their third consecutive Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Championship back in October. Neither will get a chance to add the 2011 MLS Cup trophy to their list of accomplishments - perhaps the unsung hero of the Los Angeles Galaxy Josh Saunders will be able to make that claim - but their regular-season performances helped their teams finish with the second and third best records in the league.
A look at the final regular season statistics suggests that SB Nation's voting panel was less concerned with the numbers and more influenced by results. The MLS saves leader in 2011 was San Jose Earthquakes ‘keeper Jon Busch, who recorded 113 saves in 33 games as a starter - Keller finished third with 110 and Rimando totaled 95 - but his team finished well short of the postseason. A quick scan of the MLS leaders in winning percentage sees the overall winner by a large margin being Saunders of Los Angeles, who finished with 3 points in more than two-thirds of the games he started. Unfortunately for Saunders, who needed a devastating arm injury suffered to season opener starter Donovan Ricketts to take over as the Galaxy's No. 1, he made only 19 appearances in 2011 and was not rated as high by the voters.
Incidentally, and not surprising given the strength of the Galaxy's defense, Ricketts and Saunders finished first and second in the league in another worthy statistic: goals against average. Keller and Rimando both ended up lower down the top-10 list.
So why were Keller and Rimando rated so highly by the voters? Perhaps it simply came down to winning. Factor out the two-headed Galaxy ‘keeper corps, and the SB Nation co-winners played for two of the best teams in the league. That both Keller and Rimando had their seasons cut short of an MLS Cup Championship by the Galaxy is no mark of shame, and both goalkeepers can be proud of their achievements. And while Rimando will continue to ply his trade at Rio Tinto Stadium for the foreseeable future, Keller called an end to his career this year following one of his best seasons as a professional. Perhaps the retirement of Keller will open up the door for Rimando, the MLS shutouts leader in 2011, to take home all the Goalkeeper of the Year spoils next season. He certainly has the defense in front of him to make that happen.