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SBI Reader Poll: Who is the best American goalkeeper of all time?

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Another legendary American goalkeeper is hanging up the gloves, and a familiar and inevitable question will make the rounds again.

Just who is the best American goalkeeper of all time?

Brad Friedel announced Thursday that this season will be his last, signaling the end of a 21-year-professional career full of contributions that have helped earn respect for American players abroad.

With retirement looming, Friedel has certainly earned recognition as one of the best goalkeepers, and players, that the U.S. has ever produced, but where exactly does he rank among the greats?

Friedel is one of four goalkeepers who generally make up  the conversation for best American netminder. Kasey Keller, who competed with Friedel frequently on the international level, was a member of four U.S. Men’s National Team World Cup squads and enjoyed a long and impressive club career. Tony Meola was a standout in MLS, while also manning the nets in the 1990 and 1994 World Cups. Then you have Tim Howard, who has spent more than a dozen years in the English Premier League, and has been the U.S. starter for the past two World Cups.

Who do you think is the best American goalkeeper of all time? Cast your vote here:
[polldaddy poll=8867300]

Who did you vote for? What is your lasting memory of Brad Friedel? Which young American goalkeeper can you see joining this impressive list of goalkeepers one day?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. For me, Howard is the best. But it’s not an easy call. For context, I am well over 30. Lasting memory of Friedel is the PK stop against Korea in WC2002. I think that Hamid will be the next great US keeper in what is becoming a long line of excellence.

  2. Hanhemann led the Premier League in saves and save percentage on two different teams. Just saying. He should be in the conversation over Meola.

  3. Keller.

    That said,…Keller, Friedel and Howard would do just fine in any match for me. One thing about Howard,…what could have been if he didn’t blunder away the Champions League match against Porto when he mishandled (badly) Deco’s free kick. That changed so much for Tim, ManU, The Special One, and Chelsea.

    If SBI is going to add Meola,…why not Mauser?

    Lastly,…USA supporters should recognize what a HUGE advantage we have enjoyed with our keepers in the rivalry with Mexico. These four keepers ‘papered over’ many cracks in our outfield players. Mexico was rolling out Campos and Ochoa and Lord knows who else,…that couldn’t shine these four keepers shoes. Thanks,…Kasey, Brad, Tim and Tony.

    • IMHO, Tim was never going to make it long-term at Manchester United or any other top club. He’s too volatile, a bit of a crisis-maker, and his howling and cursing – while understandable and a product of his Tourrette’s – was one knock against him, and the fact that he could stand on his head and morph into one of the world’s best shot-stoppers did not trump the fact that he’s always been slightly error-prone. There is forgiveness for that on a second-echelon team like Everton; there is no forgiveness for any error when you’re at Manchester United. Top teams consume keepers alive, and you only get one mistake.

      Howard is not the sort of personality England produces, and while he was so durn talented he was more than capable of leading the USMNT – where we like our personalities colorful and a bit flawed – he was also not the sort of personality who was ever going to be a headliner for a top club…whereas Friedel was. For whatever reason, though, no truly elite top club (aside from Tottenham, which seems to be the ceiling for American players in Europe) would hire Friedel…probably because he got overtaken by Howard right as he should have been entering his late prime years.

      • Not that I am going to disagree,…but remember that Tim was still young (GK years) when things unravelled at ManU. Problem is that,…as you point out, at ‘Top Clubs’ there is little or no room for learning through mistakes. Van de Saar was the finished product when he took over from Tim.

  4. God the GK jerseys of the 90s… those were something else.

    Keller is #1. There were parts of his career that he was arguably the best GK in the world. Then Howard then Friedel and finally Meola.

    Now I’m thinking about the 90s and early 00s and Peter Schmeichel, Oliver Khan, Fabien Barthez (in his prime) and Chilavert

  5. I’ll take Friedel just edging out Keller…then Timmy….then a big drop off. I mean is there really a big difference between Vanole and Meola?

  6. How many goalkeepers did we have playing in the EPL that one year when Keller was with Fulham? At least four right? Friedel, Howard, Keller, Hanheman, and was there someone else? Brad Guzan might have been on the bench? I thought there was another. Pretty unreal numbers considering how specific the position is (not interchangeable with any other position) and how good the EPL is.

  7. Ok, I will say it.

    Hope Solo.

    Brianna Scurry comes a very close second. With a drink or two in me I could easily be persuaded to change the order.

  8. I would take Friedel in his prime over Howard, defiantly Keller and as far as Meola goes, he is not even in the discussion. Friedel, in his prime, is arguably the only legit “world class” player we have ever produced in this country.

    • Well, he tied them, but we won’t split hairs. Possibly the most clutch performance of the bunch. “Victoire!”

    • You have to consider the team in front of Stallone.

      Friedel, Keller and Howard never had that kind of world class talent in front of them.

  9. ……..”Tuesday’s World Cup match ended in a heartbreaking loss for the U.S. Men’s team, but they had at least one accomplishment to brag about. Goalkeeper Tim Howard made 16 saves, the most on record in a World Cup match”…….The US would have been humiliated with the largest “beat down” ever in a WC if it wasn’t for one man.

    • – No other keeper has played more games for a single top flight team than Howard (Everton – 302)
      – No other keeper has represented a higher level team than Howard (Man U)
      – No other Keeper has represented the stars and stripes more than Howard (104)
      – No other keeper has scored more goals than Howard (1 – against Bolton Wanderers)….hahahahaha
      – No other keeper has made more saves in a WC than Howard

      • I watched all three play at their best.

        Friedel is tied with Keller for the best and then Howard.

        Timmy was more inconsistent than the top two.

      • I have too….and with the game and speed of play getting better and faster, with players evolving into far better athletes and leagues getting better as a whole and with the technical aspect of the game increasing drastically Howard has solidified his spot in the EPL. His performance has come after a 300+ showing between the sticks, To be able to have a 16 save game on the biggest stage world wide and achieve the most saves in a WC game ever speaks for itself

      • All three are fine.

        But if it came down to it and there was one game you had to win, it would be Friedel, Keller and then Howard.

        The reason is consistency. I’ve never seen Friedel and Keller have the kind the kind of bad spell Timmy had in the 2010 World Cup.

        One game should not influence too much but if it does then just as you get all moist about Timmy’s Belgium game I remember Timmy’s lame game vs Ghana.

        Put it this way, if Freidel or Keller had been in goal for that 2014 Belgium game,I could see the USMNT getting the same result.

        But I can’t see either Friedel or Keller having the same subpar 2010 World Cup that Timmy had.

      • “– No other keeper has scored more goals than Howard (1 – against Bolton Wanderers)….hahahahaha”

        Wrong. Friedel scored against Charlton.

      • Friedel’s EPL stats:
        – Longest consecutive-starts streak in the Premier League – 310 ( Tim Howard second at 210 games)
        – Played 450 Premier League games (Howard has played 372) Only two keepers have played more games
        – 132 clean sheets rank eighth in Premier League history
        – One of three Americans to win the League Cup (Keller, Harkes)
        – Premier League season PK save record (4), 3rd All-time (10)

  10. If Keller hadn’t gotten hurt in the games directly prior to the WC in 2002, he was the #1 and Brad doesn’t even play. Brad had one really memorable play in that WC (the pk save) but I’m not convinced Keller doesn’t do just as well. That team played above it’s head and the keeper was along for the ride- regardless of which one was in net. For me, Keller is the pick for both his longevity, his ability to play well in multiple leagues, and his consistency. His other WCs weren’t his fault- he wasn’t at fault for the performance of what was going on in front of him. I rank them 1) Keller, 2) Friedel, 3) Howard and I don’t think Meola even belongs in this conversation…..and this from someone who watched him play in college on.

  11. I never understood how this was even a comparison.

    Friedel played in 2002 because Keller got injured that Spring. And yes, he had a great tournament. Keller was 2-0 in Coppa America ’95, including the 3-0 win over Argentina. Friedel was 1-2, although the win was a huge PK victory against Mexico. Basically from 1996 to whenever Brad decided to stop playing internationally, Keller was the #1 barring injury.

    Keller, 47 wins in 102 Caps (46%)
    Friedel, 27 in 82 (33%)

  12. I voted Friedel. All of them were great and can certainly make certain arguments in their favor but for me it comes down to i can think of a few soft goals Howard has let in for the USMNT, not howlers but soft, and I can’t think of any soft goals for Friedel. Also I think Friedel could have had a lot more international appearances if he didn’t step aside from the international game pretty early in his career.

  13. Wow. The issue for me – do you solely look at USMNT careers or do you combine league play?

    I pick Howard. Here is why…..

    Assuming you combine league play. That leaves Tony Meola out.
    Keller, Friedel, Howard – all had success in europe.

    World Cups. I think this is where Keller falls out of the race.
    Was the #1 in ’98 and ’06. Did have his moment in the Italy game. But I would have to rate Friedel’s performance in ’02 and Howard’s ’14 performance over that. Friedel’s PK stopping absolutely allowed the US to advance, no doubt. But, if Wondo puts that ball into the net in the 90+ minute of that Belgium game, I do not think there would be a question about this.

    Howard was the clear cut #1 in two consecutive World Cups. Friedel, only #1 in ’02.
    I did not look this up but I would bet Tim has a better winning % than Friedel for the USMNT. Even with more games. Friedel never made it to 100 caps.

    To me, its Friedel vs. Howard. They both played at a really high level for a long time in the best league in the world. Keller had his time there but not for the length these guys did.

    • I am a big Howard fan, but he never had any real competition in his peak except for Rimando. In contrast, Meola, Keller, Freidel, and Hanhneman were contemporaries. They well all in college the same time. Keller and Meola are the same year, Friedel is 2 years younger and Hahnemann is a year younger. Howard is 10 years younger than Keller/Meola and 7 years younger than Hahnemann.

  14. Howard started and made the Round of 16 in two World Cups, made the roster for three World Cups, is the only US goalie to start a FIFA final, the 2009 Confederations Cup, ended Spain’s long winning streak in that semi-final (one of a number of acrobatic performances in big international games), won the FIFA Golden Glove for that tournament (the only US keeper to ever win one), and won a CONCACAF Gold Cup. He also won an FA Cup, League Cup and Community Shield and was in the league’s Best XI for Manchester United, and has been Everton’s starting keeper since 2006. Friedel and Keller both have great resumes and memorable performances, but Howard wins for the depth of his resume, consistency over time, and trophies. Meola is a distant fourth.

  15. Friedel was a monster in 2002 Japan/Korea WC. Best overall world cup performance from a US keeper ever, in my opinion. Howard was great against Belgium also but I think Friedel helped us to advance further.

  16. He doesn’t have the best stats of the group, but my vote is for Meola.

    He was all heart and could transform into a beast at times.

    Besides, the close-up of him reacting to Balboa’s bike against Colombia in the ’94 WC (laughing while gesturing that Marcelo had missed by inches) was priceless.

    • I don’t have a dog in this fight, but Meola wasn’t the best keeper.
      Was he the best keeper for American soccer, era specific though?

      Like you said he was a beast and he carried our hopes single handedly at many times.

      • I hear ya. I don’t disagree.

        One thing I might point out is that the backlines that played in front of Meola in the late 80s to mid-90s were largely made up of recent Div 1 graduates with little-to-no pro experience.

        Of the ’94 WC backline, only Fernando Clavijo had any prior pro experience.

        Lalas & Burns were just a year out of the uni.

        That would also largely explain why his results/stats aren’t on par with the Friedels, Kellers & Howards.

    • I’ve never seen a ‘keeper get caught out of position as much as Meola, who was constantly diving because he wasn’t where he was supposed to be. Him diving directly into the post and injuring himself against the Czechs in 1990 was just downright embarrassing, and the goal the Swiss scored against us in 1994 is totally on him. Kasey Keller was the best goalie available in 1990 and 1994, and I’ll never get why he was passed over.

      Based on his failures abroad, he doesn’t even deserve to be in this conversation…plus he had the worst haircut in two straight world cups.

      • The 1990 team was really dreadful from an international standpoint and the thing I remember most about the tournament was Meola flying around the goal, making one spectacular save after another. I think any failures in 1990 were due to the players in front of him. It looked like a bunch of amateurs against a bunch of seasoned pros and that is literally what it was. The US really had no business being on the same field as those other teams.

  17. was at the Los Angeles Coliseum the night that Keller stood on his head against Brazil in the Gold Cup. Never seen anything like it. Absolutely stoned Romario and Romario was so impressed he went over to shake Keller’s hand… in the middle of the game.

      • Keller should be considered as one of the top 3 all time but will be remembered for the less successful ’98 and ’06 World Cup compared to the successful WC’s inlcuding Fridel’s ’02 and Howard’s ’10 and ’14

        that said, if I had to pick 1 keeper in a penalty shootout … idk i might take a late 90’s Keller.

      • You have to factor in that the 2006 they faced Italy, the winners of the whole thing, the Czech Republic arguably one of the best teams of that time and Ghana who were, well, Ghana..

        That and the fact that the team around Keller was not as good as the 02, 10, and 14 teams.

      • I agree. It was never on Keller that his World Cups weren’t successful. The USA teams in ’98 and ’06 could score a goal to help Keller out. Keller was great. He was just on underachieving teams.

        Friedel had quality in front of him in ’02, but he was also clearly the right choice in goal for the tournament. Truly one of the top performances by a US keeper.

        Howard’s been … really good. Those teams in ’10 and ’14 had their issues, but more than Friedel and Keller, he’s been guilty of some high-profile miscues, as was Meola on occasion.

        Still, the USA’s got nothing to worry about with goalkeepers. We’ve had a ton of quality there. All four of them were/are world-class keepers.

    • One thing about the win over Brazil is that I think Keller’s saves were more so examples of good positioning than outstanding reflexes. He saved some big shots but most were right near his torso and only one that I remember was a true diving finger tip type save. That’s not to detract because many wise coaches would prefer positioning over reflexes.
      I also think the performance is escalated because it’s Brazil. If the same saves would have happened against Guatemala I don’t think we’d still be talking about it.

    • Everybody seems to be considering this only on the basis of their international careers, but I don’t think that is the only interpretation of best US goalkeeper. When it comes to the totality of their careers, one thing about Keller is the wide experience he had. He played in 3 different European leagues (England, Spain and Germany), and 4 different teams in England. Friedel played only in England and mostly all at Blackburn, with 3 years at Aston Villa and 1+ season at Tottenham (where Keller also played).. Both played in MLS for short times. I have nothing against Friedel or Howard, but if I had to pick one GK to go through a season with, I’d pick Keller, no matter what the league.

    • this. Friedel didn’t just keep the US in these games, he began to intimidate the opposing attackers and singlehandedly leveled the playing field.

    • Isn’t Friedel still the only goalkeeper in WC history to save two penalties in the group stage? There wouldn’t have been a round of 16 match up against Mexico, much less our only trip to the round of 8, without him.

    • On the free kick that led to the header by Ballack, I thought then, and still do, that Friedel should have come out of goal for the ball. I don’t think he was as good as Keller in handling balls in the air; Keller had better judgment and was better at coming out of goal, IMHO.

      • Agree on the crosses issue. I’ve thought that at times about Howard as well.

        For me it’s Keller, but I wouldn’t disagree with Big Brad either. Howard would be third for me. Hope Solo would be just ahead of Meola.

      • Figures about Solo…she has too much hair. Meola gets a -10 because he had a mullet/rattail at one point.

      • I am sorry but in my opinion Keller was the best shot stopper, that’s it. His distribution was horrendous. He’d just close his eyes and hoof it downfield aimlessly, (Howard also does this sometimes). Friedel always looked to start a counter, in my opinion he is by far the best we’ve ever had and I was extremely disappointed that he retired from the USMNT so early.

    • I think this is definitely a legit contest. There are arguments to be made for T-Ho, Friedel, AND Keller when you look at the entirety of their careers. Keller and Friedel were pioneers.
      T-Ho stood on his head against Belgium. Keller did the same and then some against Brazil. Friedel was instrumental in the U.S.’s success in Korea.

    • If you’re under 30, then you probably do think it’s Howard.

      At the top of his game, Friedel was in the top 5 worldwide — and the best goalie in England. I’m not sure I’d say that was true for Howard, no matter how good he looked in Brazil. And, even though Howard set a WC record for saves, I think that game still takes a back seat to the game Keller turned in against Brazil in the ’98 Gold Cup. Still, Howard probably is a tad better than Keller was.

      All that said, I look forward to the day when Bill Hamid is recognized as the best yet.


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