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How Can Vlatko Andonovski Fix His Goalkeeping Problem?

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Australia v Brazil Photo by Zak Kaczmarek/Getty Images

Will Haley Kopmeyer be traded?

That question has been turning over in my head since it was announced that former Seattle Reign FC GM and Head Coach Laura Harvey made a trade for Lydia Williams on August 31.

In her brief time with Reign FC, Williams amassed 1 win, 1 draw and 1 loss.

Williams did look more solid at times in net than Kopmeyer did, but comparing one of the top international goalkeepers on the women’s side to a 4-year backup who was in her first season of starting full-time might be a bit unfair. Williams has more experience working with backlines that are a player, or even two, short of a fully formed defense, due both to time in the Australian W-League and during international play for Australia. In contrast, Kopmeyer has only college ball and Seattle on her résumé.

As Seattle’s season came to a close, all I could think about was what would happen to Kopmeyer this offseason. Would she be traded? Would she decide to stay in Seattle and keep playing for the coach who raised her up on this team? Would she retire and start a second career as a Twitter comedian? Would Williams even want to stay in the NWSL in 2018?

And then Laura Harvey left Seattle Reign FC, and suddenly all of the thoughts I had processed and the notes I had written about what Williams, Kopmeyer and Harvey might work out during this offseason were lit on fire.

Out went Harvey — we’ll get back to her in a moment — and in walked Vlatko Andonovski, the villain turned possible savior, to coach Seattle.

He brings with him a goalkeeping stat that might be important here. Andonovski played Nicole Barnhart in over 90% of the goalkeeping minutes available in his 5 years as head coach of FC Kansas City. It didn’t matter if her back-up was Bianca Henninger, Sara Keane, Cecelia Santiago, Katelyn Rowland or Cat Parkhill. Andonovski played Barnhart through twisted ankles and sore shoulders. He played Barnhart when the games didn’t matter because the club was already securely in or out of the playoffs. He played Barnhart to the near exclusion of anyone else.

Barnhart is third all-time in GK appearances for the USWNT, behind former Reign FC goalkeeper Hope Solo and Hall-of-Famer Briana Scurry, and not the kind of talent most coaches would send to the bench when they didn’t have to. But other coaches have found ways to give their backup goalkeepers time when they needed to work on developing their next number one.

With Williams and Kopmeyer it’s not as easy of a choice as sitting Henninger, when she was on his roster, in favor of Barnhart. While Kopmeyer was not perfect last season, she did show that she was paying attention while serving as an understudy. She is the type of talent that should be starting NWSL games, either for Seattle or elsewhere in the league. And Williams should be sitting on no benches unless it’s for the sake of rotation.

So what happens now?

If Williams stays in the NWSL — and this is no small if — Andonovski will likely want to trade either Kopmeyer or Williams to the newly formed Utah Royals to replace Nicole Barnhart, who has had one foot in retirement for nearly two seasons.

Andonovski has shown that he likes putting his eggs in one goalkeeping basket. It doesn’t make sense for him to keep both goalkeepers when he has to know Barnhart is close to hanging up her goalkeeping gloves. He can readily find a serviceable backup through either the draft, free agency, or another trade.

Andonovski can then pick up a player or two from his former club, while the Royals get a starting-caliber goalkeeper to replace the aging Barnhart. Seattle gets themselves out of the pickle of having two starting-level goalkeepers on their bench and gets something of value in return.

This now begs the question, who should Andonovski trade? Assuming Barnhart is really gone, of course. And who might Harvey want?

Williams brings the likelihood of getting more out of the trade from a Seattle perspective. Most teams would be interested in someone like Williams as their starter. But she is also someone solid you can consistently count on, coupled with her ability to help develop the players around her, which could make her desirable to retain in Seattle.

Kopmeyer, on the other hand, might do well going to a fresh team. I wrote about just how well she had done, from her drafting in 2013 to her becoming the number one in 2017. She is a hard worker who I can see benefiting from changing teams. She might not bring in as much trade value, but she could also be packaged with another player to get what Andonovski may want.

If Andonovski believes Williams really does want to stay in the league long-term, I’d wager that he will keep her and send Kopmeyer to Utah. If he worries that Williams will be out of the league sooner rather than later, he might prefer the security of having Kopmeyer on his roster.

Harvey might feel more comfortable replacing Barnhart with the goalkeeper she knows better in Kopmeyer. All other things being equal, that’s the choice I would make if I were her.

This could be a key piece of a landmark deal for both Utah and Seattle. After all, this deal could open the door to maybe the most wonderful thought the NWSL has never given us — the magic of a Becky Sauerbrunn and Lauren Barnes centerback pairing in front of Lydia Williams.