CARSON, Calif. – All season long, the LA Galaxy have waxed lyrical about their strength in depth as one of the key reasons why the team won the Supporters’ Shield. No more evident is that depth than between the pipes.
Reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Donovan Ricketts started the season injured and wound up breaking his forearm in June, thrusting Josh Saunders into the spotlight for the majority of the campaign.
The team was never any worse off and now that the playoffs are underway, Ricketts has returned to health while Saunders remains in fine form. But coaches did not reveal who will be in goal when the Galaxy play New York in the first leg of the Western Conference Semifinals on Sunday (3 pm ET/12 pm PT, ESPN2, ESPN Deportes).
“We’re very fortunate to have, in our opinion, the two best goalies in the league,” Galaxy assistant coach Dave Sarachan said. “We’ll just kind of get through each day and have to make a decision.”
Ricketts played 15 games this season but only three times after June. After returning from CONCACAF Gold Cup duty on June 25, Ricketts fractured his forearm and was unable to play until September; however, he injured a quadriceps muscle and fought to recover from that.
In his absence, Saunders shined. He played in 18 matches and had eight shutouts, a figure surpassed by only five others goalkeepers. He was first pressed into action at the start of the season as Ricketts injured a shoulder in a late preseason friendly. Saunders then took over the reins for good after Ricketts' broken forearm.
The 30-year-old Saunders led the Galaxy not only to regular-season success but international triumph, as he was in goal for all six of the Galaxy’s CONCACAF Champions League matches, guiding the club to the quarterfinals.
“When you string a couple of games together, you feel a lot better, a little more confident on the field, just little things with footwork, making some catches rather than punting the ball away,” Saunders said. “I definitely do feel more confident now than I did at the beginning of the season.”
Saunders has always approached training the same way and has prepared as if he is the starting ‘keeper, an approach that may have helped ease the transition from backup to starter.
“Every day we come here, work hard and keep the same mentality,” Saunders said. “I think that’s the biggest thing for anybody all the way through the team, you have to prepare every day whether you’re playing or not.”
Regardless of whether it’s Saunders or Ricketts, the backline will believe in their goalkeeper.
“They’re both great goalkeepers,” Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez said. “It shouldn’t matter who is in goal. The backline has faith and trust in both of those ‘keepers. They’ve both done well these past three years and we’ve just got to worry about protecting them.
"We’ve been doing that the whole year by not allowing that many shots and when [teams] do get chances on them, they come up big.”