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NWSL clubs search for GK balance, Seattle finds it

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Photo credit: Mike Russell

A common theme in talking about national team goalkeepers is the idea of giving time to the backups — making sure if you’re number one goes down or is otherwise unable to play, you have a backup ready, willing and able to stand between the posts and protect your team. But for all the talk on an NWSL level about goalkeepers, the backups rarely get a passing mention.

This year, six teams will say goodbye to their first-choice goalkeeper, Chicago Red Stars’ Alyssa Naeher and Orlando Pride’s Ashlyn Harris will join the Seattle Reign’s Hope Solo in Rio for the United States women’s national team.

The Washington Spirit’s Stephanie Labbe will be starting in goal for the Canadian women’s national team while Sabrina D’Angelo, who would have been starting for Western New York Flash if she hadn’t gone down with a wrist injury, is still heading down to Rio for the Canadians.

Houston Dash’s Lydia Williams will be the #1 for Australia’s women’s national team.

With the exception of Orlando — it’s their first season in the league — each team has faced a World Cup year where they see star players leave their roster to join their national team. While losing a star forward or a key defensive player can hurt a team, losing a starting goalkeeper can cripple a team like nothing else.

In the NWSL you have two extremes. At one end you have FC Kansas City. In four years, Nicole Barnhart has played in 73 of the team’s 80 games; 91% of all of FCKC’s goalkeeping minutes have gone to Barnhart. Her current backup, Cat Parkhill, is new to the club and has yet to see a single minute in goal.

At the other end you have the Western New York Flash. Over the last 4 seasons, 10 players have stepped in goal for them — only Sabrina D’Angelo for more than one season. D’Angelo has been out with a broken wrist so Britt Eckerstrom and the newly acquired Katelyn Rowland have been splitting time for the club.

Some clubs are too hot on one goalkeeper, some are too cold on keeping one on the roster at all. But the Seattle Reign have managed to be just about spot on.

While Hope Solo has played the most minutes, 63% of all Reign regular season goalkeeping minutes, Haley Kopmeyer has managed to carve out 26% of the time over the same period. Solo and Kopmeyer are the only pair in the NWSL to be part of the same goalkeeping crew for all four years.

Solo and Kopmeyer have 89% of all Reign minutes, with Michelle Betos, now of the Portland Thorns, having 9% (7 games in 2013 for a total of 630 minutes), Caroline Stanley in 2015 with 1 full 90 minute game, and this season Andi Tostanoski coming in 2 games for a total of 136 minutes.

Laura Harvey has created a stable core around Solo and Kopmeyer, adding in rookie goalkeepers when Solo has been away with the USWNT — each getting at least a full game to work with one of the more experienced back lines in the league. Tostanoski may or may not get more minutes later on in the season.

Having two goalkeepers of starting quality — Kopmeyer would surely contend for a starting stop if not flat out win it in perhaps all but FC Kansas City, Orlando and Chicago — makes international competition years much less tumultuous for the Seattle Reign. Kopmeyer was the 31st pick overall in 2013, the second to last in the 4th round, not a bad deal.

Below is a short video that shows each team's total goalkeeping minutes. Updated as of July 24, 2016.