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Lineup breakdown: Between the pipes

(Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz)

All this week, PSP will be breaking down the Philadelphia Union/Houston Dynamo playoff matchup. PSP’s roving correspondent Adam Cann lays out the big questions and Eli Pearlman-Storch answers them. First up, we compare the goalkeeping of the second and third best teams in the Eastern Conference.

Beware the Dragon

However far the Philadelphia Union travel into their first MLS postseason shall be as far as Faryd Mondragon can lead them. The aged but fierce heart of this young team is the unquestioned number one goalie. Yet, he has been questioned. Zac MacMath’s strong turn in Mondragon’s stead has led some to call for the Maryland product to start between the pipes.

The two goalies have nearly identical goals against averages (Mondragon: 1.06, MacMath: 1.07) yet neither has faced many shots. Mondragon made 49 saves in 27 games, which puts him well below every other regular starting goalie in the playoffs.

In fact, if you combine the number of saves Mondragon and MacMath have made this season, it is only three quarters of the number that Houston’s Tally Hall has made.

Tally Hall: The Challenger

Hall has been dynamic. He is 6’4″ and plays big in net. With Pat Onstad gone and their defensive situation unclear, the Dynamo were largely expected to be in rebuilding mode this season. Hall is one of the major reasons why the team instead finds itself with home field advantage against the Union.

To say Hall was an unknown quantity before this season is unfair. But he had about as much professional experience as Chris Seitz did when he came to the Union. So while expectations were high, they were also tempered by the fact that MLS puts a lot of pressure on goalies to command their box. And an inexperienced keeper who thinks twice when he sees a cross will likely see his name crossed off the team sheet.

And thus the goalie matchups are set! Both Mondragon and Hall are 2011 All-Stars. The Houston backstop is a big, solid shot stopper. In fact, he probably resembles Mondragon in his younger days. The Union goalie has looked vulnerable when forced to deal with shots from distance, but he has marshaled his defense so well that he has rarely faced shots from anywhere this season.

Who has the advantage?

Eli’s Verdict

Though it pains me to do so, I have to give the nod to Hall. With a defense stuck together with little more than spit and hope, Hall has put together an excellent season backstopping the Dynamo. While he has had to pull the ball out of his net with more frequency than Mondragon, he has faced twice as many shots as the Union shot-stopper and three more PKs.

While it is essential to mention the intangible aspects of Mondragon’s game, including his organization, leadership and the general confidence he inspires, his physical skills are simply not on par with MLS’ elite goalkeepers. Too often he has struggled to handle balls shot close to his body and his quick, explosive distribution rarely finds its way to his intended target.

Despite this, in the franchise’s second season, Mondragon has completely reversed the negative culture surrounding the Union’s defense with his inspirational drive and charisma. But when it comes down to the nuts and bolts of stopping shots, claiming crosses and distributing efficiently, Tally Hall beats out the Dragon by the tips of his fingers.

5 Comments

  1. Eli, I agree with your verdict. He’ lost a step at his age but I’m hoping that Mondragon’s pitch generalship will make the difference.

  2. Hate to harp on it.

    But if MacMath gave up that goal in NY, we’d be bashing him for not coming out to claim a 100% claimable ball.

    • And probably would have allowed one of the other goals that Mondy had big saves on. The dragon is starting in the playoffs so that’s who we are evaluating. nice piece and i agree that hall is better. he was one of the most impressive keepers i saw this season.

  3. Speaking from down here in Houston, I think this analysis is spot on. I would give Hall an edge, but really, not much of one. Both keepers are terrific. And while Hall has a tendency to wander at times, all that means is that he is not Pat Onstad, which is something of an unfair comparison as Onstad was quite arguably the best keeper in MLS history.

    If it comes down to goalkeeping on Nov. 3, I honestly think this will be a wash. It’ll come down to a great shot to beat either one of these guys. The only reason I would give Hall an edge is because he is in clear form and younger than Mondragon. Other than that, even steven in between the pipes.

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