It's the fun sort of "what if" question that you and your buddy talk about over beer at the pub. Marcus Hahnemann is an American great. He's not Keller, nor Freidel, nor Howard (this is not a slight). He's in the next tier and probably the leader in that tier. He clearly wanted to be Kasey's replacement here in Seattle, or at the very least be a keeper for the Sounders to end his career.
What if Marcus Hahnemann signed earlier?
There are two timelines to explore. Both have very different "answers." You have to use quotes, because it is very difficult to know just how good Hahnemann is right now. He's been retired since May while prior to that he was the third keeper for Everton and was basically unused. Prior to that he spent two years seeing occasional minutes with Wolverhampton. He hasn't started more than 3 matches since the 08/09 season. Still, during that stretch he was still in the United States national team picture. He was a good keeper, just not a great keeper.
Aside: It's really odd diminishing a hero. It feels unnatural and isn't what the goal of this is. But we have to guess at his level of talent in some way.
The Allocation rules are why Hahnemann wasn't here earlier, but it's fairly obvious he would have been here earlier if the system was different. He could have joined during the offseason or immediately after leaving Everton. Both would have had a cascade of impacts.
First, if he'd joined in the last offseason it is highly unlikely that the Seattle Sounders would have Michael Gspurning. The signing of Gspurning is clearly awesome. He's been amazing and I've made the case that he should get MVP recognition. He should be a finalist for Keeper of the Year. Could Hahnemann have done that?
Probably not. Keller did it. But Keller left England at the top of his game. Hahnemann didn't. Could Hahnemann have been good? Almost certainly. He stated during his interview with KJR that he's not a reflex or athletic style keeper, but a man who puts himself in the right spot. Those kind of keepers are a bit rare in MLS. Instead, the American fascination with athleticism wins out. The Sounders might be a few points worse on the table. It is unlikely to be many points. Our lack of some kind of unified analytical measure makes these estimates difficult. Going from a shutout rate of 33% to 25% would really only be a change of several goals. The impact would be minimal. It would also mean more long ball play from the keeper. How that changes the offense becomes nebulous.
Second, if Hahnemann had joined in May. He'd be as fit as ever. Ready and almost certain to win the second keeper role. If Marcus had been around when Gspurning went down injured how good would he be? How bad were Meredith and Weber?
Here's the funny thing. Seattle's backup keepers were exactly what backup keepers are - average. When compared to all of the backup keepers in MLS, the Sounders backups performed (as judged by Goals Against Average) as backup keepers do.
Remember that nine-match winless streak? It would be convenient to lay the blame at the reserve keepers. But if you look at their gamelogs (Meredith, Weber), they weren't blown out often and kept the Sounders close. Looking over it one could guess at four more points, two ties that could have been wins.
Four points is a big deal. It moves Seattle from 5th to 3rd. Against the "right " teams it moves them up to second. To get those four points though it means that Marcus Hahnemann would be the best backup keeper in MLS. There's a chance that's true. If it is, and Seattle would have been able to sign him back in May, then Saturday's game would be even more important than it is.
But reality is that Hahnemann is fading from his peak and a good, but not extraordinary backup keeper. He still makes the team better. The backup keeper was never why the Sounders aren't in first.
What if? It's fun, but it's hard to claim that he'd be a huge difference.
Instead we merely returned a legend from the southeast corner of Lake Washington to his home. I look forward to being proven wrong.