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Goalkeeper position becoming a growing concern for RBNY as Robles struggles

Luis Robles


Slowly, the New York Red Bulls are addressing their team issues, but one remains glaring.

A healthy forward corps has helped drive the team to a league-leading 15 goals. The midfield has contributed greatly in creating chances, putting New York in solid command for team assists league wide with 20, nearly doubling the total of their closest rivals (12). Even the defense, which was a major worry in the onset of the season, has settled into a reliable four man front, holding their opponents to three goals in their last four games.

While all of those positives are pushing the team forward, the goalkeeping situation has become a growing concern. One need only look back to the team’s victory against Toronto FC to understand why.

Holding on to a fragile 1-0 lead late in the second half, starting goalkeeper Luis Robles did the inexplicable. A 40-yard set piece situation forced Toronto FC to launch the ball into the Red Bulls area. It was soccer’s version of a Hail Mary; get it into the danger zone and hope for the best.

Robles made sure that attempt had more than a prayer’s chance for completion.

Almost predetermined in his actions, the 28-year-old keeper rushed towards the edge of the area in an ill-advised attempt to punch the ball out of danger. The problem is there was no danger to be had. He nearly steamrolled Jonny Steele – who had the best track on the ball – keeping the play alive and giving Jonathan Osorio ample time to take advantage of the confusion. With Robles lingering in no-man’s land in the penalty area, Osorio perfectly placed his shot into the open net to give TFC life.

Had it not been for some late-game magic from Tim Cahill and Thierry Henry, that moment would have come to define the match.

It has been a difficult season for Robles. Despite the team’s recent successes, it has been Robles’ blunders which are best recalled rather than his stronger individual performances. His failure to properly handle and control shots in the area against Portland in the home opener encouraged the home side to fire at will. Soon enough, those rebounds became chances and the Timbers erased New York’s 3-1 advantage by the end of the 90 minutes.

More recently, Robles failed to step up on a ball in his five yard area, allowing Daniel Paladini all the room he needed to beat the keeper’s catching attempt. His header turned the tides on the visiting Red Bulls and gave Chicago all the momentum they needed en route to a 3-1 victory.

Whether contending with a make-shift back-line or fighting his own personal decision-making problems, the young keeper has failed to garner confidence from his team or it’s coaching staff. His 68% save percentage ranks him in the lower half of all MLS starting goalkeepers. Though he has played two more matches than his nearest competition, Robles is currently tied with D.C. United’s Bill Hamid for most goals conceded with 13. For comparison sake, Chivas USA’s Dan Kennedy has played two less games but faced 48 shots to Robles’ 41, and still has given up all of 11 goals. His performances have put him in the bottom eight amongst current starting keepers with an unenviable 1.30 GAA.

Robles’ shaky play forced the club to reach into the free agent market to pull up the nearly 39-year-old Kevin Hartman to shore up their lines. Nearly a month after his signing, Hartman continues to contend with fitness issues. Meanwhile, last season’s goalkeeping hero Ryan Meara is near game form, but still has not faced live action. His opportunity could have come this weekend against Toronto in reserve league action, but the match was cancelled.

That leaves the onus on Luis Robles for at least another few weeks.

The Red Bulls are easing into a kind stretch of matches that will see them play three out of four games at home prior to the big June international break. If Robles hopes to cement his spot with the team, the next five weeks will be crucial for him. If he continues to struggle the way he has in recent weeks, the return to full health of Meara and Hartman could leave Robles buried on the bench, if not on the waiver wire.


  1. Are you really going back to to a time when “journalists” um make that bloggers, have to use NFL metaphors to explain soccer? That apologetic attitude sets soccer back in the USA every time it’s written. Embarrassing.

    • Settle down Michael. It was ONE metaphor. No need to get the soap box out and go into mock outrage mode about it.

      • I wouldn’t call it outrage, Ives. I’d call it an opinion. When this occurs, rarely are there more then one in an article. As for soap box, I thought we were free to express our opinions here. Seems your reply is more outraged then my comment.

      • Not sure what you’re deal is Michael but you’re mistaken if you think people can say anything they feel like saying in the comments section. That has never been the case and you, as a regular, should know that. There is room for opinion and constructive criticism, but if something comes off as an attack it will be dealt with as such. There are certain things I won’t tolerate on the site and one of them is unfair criticism of our writers. You can feel free to disagree about whether the criticism is over the line, but I’m the one who is going to make that determination on this site.

      • Wow. Your thin-skinned reaction is really unprofessional. You must realize, don’t you, that the main reason people come to this site is the commenters and the community, right?

    • What are you, the metaphor police? Embarrassing is the correct word, but it’s pointed at the wrong target. Turn the arrow around and it would be far more appropriate.

  2. His decision making is subpar. Reminds me of bouna a bit, can cost points with his mistakes but makes some excellent saves. If Meara gets to where he was pre injury then it should be safe to say he gets a chance. I think if he was never injured he would be starting right now.

    • Exactly. The Condoul Conundrum. Brilliant reflex save, insane reach to stop the rebound; next play feeds the ball to the opposing forward.

  3. Yes Robles is a growing concern. He is still average like said above. The goalkeeper position is one of widening possibilities for NYRB fans as Hartman and Meara come on line. Hopefully Hartman can teach Robles some and solidify him as he can play for 10 more years – not necessarily for NY because I think the position will Meara for as long as he is healthy and wants to stay.

  4. Since he left Kaiserslautern and left training with Gerry Erhmann, he has been a shadow of his former self. To bad because he has enormous talent, but the decision making problems are bubbling up again. I always took it for nerves because he never played well in his first game, but always pulled it together.

  5. Robles has already cost the Red Bulls several goals this season. Dave summarized his gaffes above. They’re just completely inexplicable and inexcusable mistakes. There’s no way that the team can seriously contend if they have to keep making up for these blunders. It’s sad, because he really is a great guy – you can really tell from his interviews on the Seeing Red podcast – but he just is not good enough to start in MLS. The Red Bulls really need Hartman or Meara to start playing soon, and they have to hope those guys can approach the levels they used to play at.

  6. Stefan Frei may be a good target for the redbulls but they would need to give up an established starter for him. He’s one of the best goalkeepers in the league, a domestic, and one of the only goalkeepers in MLS who can distribute. With him losing his spot to Bendik Payne may look to move him in the summer or even before this window closes.

    • I liked Frei when he came in but for some reason — perhaps TFC itself — he’s never taken off.

      What is Frei’s immigration status? I know he’s Swiss and he went to school here, but he’s been playing in Canada.

  7. Robles is fine. He is an average goalkeeper in MLS. He has his good days and his bad days just like most average MLS keepers. Has he made some terrible decisions/plays this season? Yes. But so have Hamid, Macmath, etc and I don’t see them getting articles on here calling them out for their poor play. Goalkeeper is NOT a major concern for NY because they have Kevin Hartman gaining fitness, and Ryan Meara soon to come back from injury. Once Meara is healthy again and starting, Robles will be looked upon as a solid option for the Red Bulls while Meara was hurt, and as a good backup goalkeeper.

    • GK will not be a major concern in NY for real when they have someone in net playing so well where no one is thinking too hard about a replacement. Hartman is 38 and was ditched by FCD off-season, and the rest are sufficiently iffy in their relative youth where we’re having this discussion.

    • Maybe he is an average goalie in MLS, (Seattle has three better than him, so probably not ), but he is not even close to an average starter in MLS.

      • Here comes the seattle comment…seattle has the best team ever…heck they have the best field, best colors…hahaha…see the irony. ..maybe their fans are the problem they only win open cups…

  8. Red Bulls need a DP as a GK.

    Get the GK that WIGAN has. He’s on low wages. Give him 400 K and he’ll take it. Or get any Championship caliber English GK

    • NYRB tried the DP route on a goalie recently and it was a disaster. Hold off until Meara is healthy and see what you have in him. No reason to go blowing tons of coin, yet.

    • Why? ‘Merica breeds plenty of good talent. Look no further than Irwin this past month at Colorado, and Rowe with the Galaxy. They just need a chance to shine.

  9. Robles has a tremendous story. He is a two time guest on the show and is frankly one of my favorite people to have on. That said, I have a job to do, and as a professional, I have to keep it honest despite any relationships. I think you can respect that good Doctor and I know he does.

    • People seem to forget this was the same guy who had the 2009 Gold Cup nightmare where the USA ended up tying Haiti 2-2. Factor that into the great story. Maybe part of the reason he bounces around is he isn’t all that great and makes judgment errors usually rare at this level.

      This is a few years of muddling along at GK now for NY. Bite the bullet, sign a keeper who is not either 40 or unproven.


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