Editorial (September 28, 2017) – It has been 11 games since Sigi Schmid took over as Head Coach of the Los Angeles Galaxy. In those games, each goalkeeper has made at least two starts. Sigi wiped the slate clean for most of the roster. What they did under Curt Onalfo didn’t matter. He wanted to see what they could do for him. With many players playing for their jobs, one thing is clear: Jon Kempin deserves start the rest of the season.
The Houston Draw Proves Jon Kempin Should Be The Starting Goalkeeper For LA Galaxy
Under Sigi, Brian Rowe has three starts (the first three Sigi coached). He’s also come on as a sub. The Human Howler Reel (as appose to a human highlight reel) Clement Diop has started the last two games. Jon Kempin has started all other matches (six in total).
From this sample size, and the season as a whole, Kempin proves the most viable going forward. Rowe has shown enough to deserve to be in MLS next year. Diop is still a work-in-progress. Let’s break it down.
How We Got Here:
The goalkeeping situation for the 2017 LA Galaxy has been a roller coaster. Brian Rowe was unquestionably the starting going into the year. He started almost all of 2016 and had some good moments. He still made some mistakes, but he wasn’t bad given it was his first real chance to start in MLS.
Then the horrible start happened. LA’s defense was a young hot mess. They were soft up the middle of the field with Jermaine Jones and Jelle Van Damme running rough shot over each other. The offense was injured and inert. Rowe got hung out to dry. None of those early loses were really his fault, but Clement Diop was Onalfo’s starter at LA Galaxy II. Coaches play favorites and familiarity breeds endearment and belief.
Onalfo shook things up, thinking Diop could help organize a backline that consisted of his old teammates from USL. Then that game in Vancouver happened. Diop continued to make rookie mistakes. He struggled with rebound control and was way to eager to come off his line when it wasn’t necessary. He made excuses as well. The team was still inconsistent, and Onalfo went back to Rowe.
If you ask me, as soon as Rowe got benched, Onalfo lost Rowe on some level. The team was losing. It wasn’t Rowe’s fault. Diop came in and struggled, then Onalfo went back to Rowe to again try and fix the results and shake things up.
Rowe came back in and the team started winning. They had a four game unbeaten streak on the road. Then Rowe got a groin injury in training at the start of June. He missed six weeks. Diop came in and laid some eggs. There was the Houston Dynamo game. The #IkeBike game against Sporting KC. Then the blowout on July 4th. Diop did start to own up to his mistakes for what that’s worth.
Rowe came back from injury. Then two games later, Onalfo got fired and Sigi came in. You had a keeper who had played ok; he wasn’t part of the defensive problem but he wasn’t fixing it. The backup needed to work on his fundamentals, but had potential. Then there was this career bench warmer and nobody knew what he could do.
Why Diop Needs Minutes But At A Lower Level:
Clement Diop is the youngest of the three (23-years-old). Scouting reports indicate that he has a higher ceiling than Rowe does. He still has lots of issues with basic goalkeeping fundamentals. That will come with time. Goalkeepers peak at a later age and play to a later age than field players. Rowe will turn 29 in November, and he’s not old by MLS goalkeeping standards.
Diop needs minutes to achieve his potential. Minutes in a lower risk situation. He started 22 USL games in 2016. He had six clean sheets and a 70% save percentage. Let him work out his kinks in USL: Learn to think ahead with rebound placement. Get better in distribution.
Kevin Baxter of the LA Times has a theory regarding European keepers that holds up pretty well. American keepers grow up playing other sports where they naturally have to use their hands to catch things (basketball, football, baseball, handball). Europeans don’t play as many sports, and not ones where you’re regularly using your hands to catch an inflated sphere. So they habitually punch crosses out rather than catching. That decreases possession and leads to rebound/recycled chances. Let Diop work on that.
If the Galaxy organization sees value in Diop’s potential in the years to come, cutting him this winter would be a mistake. Keep him on the roster and have him start for Los Dos. Assign him the goal of becoming one of the best keepers in USL. He’ll have plenty of practice given the state of Los Dos‘s defense.
Diop doesn’t deserve another start after what happened on Wednesday:
Brian ‘Ah Shucks’ Rowe:
Rowe is still good enough to have an MLS contract. He hasn’t been convincing enough the last 18 months to be a de facto starter. If you had no other choice, he can fill in and not blow it. Rowe’s like Josh Saunders: He won’t lose games very often, but he’ll rarely win a game. If he’s got a really good back four in front of him, the defense won’t be an issue.
This season just seems to have broken him on an emotional level. Missing the playoffs is hugely disappointing. So is finishing near the bottom of the table. Getting benched then being asked to come back in is rough. Especially when the coach preferred your competition and is starting you cause he’s on the hot seat. Down the stretch it just seemed like Rowe was worn out.
Maybe all he needs is a reset. A new coach and a full off-season to decompress and recharge can do wonders. Rowe’s never had a coach who gave him a chance to play and believed in him. If Sigi believes in him, even if he’s not starting, he might be able to course correct.
His last start was a 2-0 loss at home to New York City FC. Like many games this year, he just gave off this vibe of ‘we’re bad. I’m being hung out to dry. I can’t do enough to change the results. We’re going to miss the playoffs. Ah shucks.’ There needs to be a change for him to get back to being a confident and productive keeper.
Kempin Makes A Difference And He Cares, A Lot:
Kempin made his first start under Sigi in a road game at Columbus Crew SC. The Galaxy lost the match 2-0, but Kempin stopped two PKs in the match. When things aren’t going great across the team, coaches look for who steps up. Who becomes a leader or at least stops the bleeding to the extent they can with their own play. Kempin came in and immediately bailed out a teammate on one PK. On the other, he made up for his own mistake.
The Galaxy went on to lose three of the next four games Kempin played all 90 minutes. It’s hard to argue a keeper has a good game when his team loses 4-0. But with many of those games, Kempin was completely hung out to dry (like Rowe and Diop). He continued to make good saves though. If not for him, several of these results would have been worse.
What was also different was his demeanor after matches. The Overland Park, KS native is a straight shooter. He gave candid answers during interviews after matches.
What’s more, he showed emotion. He didn’t say ‘ah shucks, that’s the way it goes.’ He said ‘this isn’t good enough. This isn’t acceptable. I have to be better. We as a team have to be better.’ For everything that has gone wrong in 2017, he refused to make excuses.
Compare that with a Brian Rowe interview. Compare that with Diop making excuses or just moping about. On and off the field, Kempin is stepping up and trying like thunder to make a difference. He’s stopped the bleeding to the extent he can. He’s yelling and trying to fix things with his back four after a goal is conceded.
He’s showing in post game interviews that he cares. With the rest of his team mailing in the last two months of the season, Kempin did what he could to try and make the playoffs matter. He’s been playing for pride since the Columbus game. That’s more than several Galaxy players can say.
For all of these reasons, Jon Kempin should start all remaining games and be considered for the starting spot next year.
Looking Ahead To 2018:
All reports coming out of the StubHub Center are that goalkeeper is at or near the top of the Galaxy’s off-season to do list. They could be looking at a roster overhaul in the winter. I’d expect them to go after a de facto starting keeper, possibly an International. I doubt they sign a keeper to a DP or TAM contract, but they’ll probably go after several targets who are more proven that the current three.
As previously stated, Kempin and Rowe are good enough to have MLS contracts. I’m not sure they’ll be good enough to start on a playoff team. If they are, they’ll be the Josh Saunders type. That’s not a bad thing, but Sigi will probably want someone more reliable.
Prediction: I think one of Rowe or Kempin will be back as the expected backup next year. Diop will be loaned down long term to Los Dos. The Galaxy will sign some noteworthy goalkeeper who will be expected to start. Sigi might entertain the backup with some preseason competition, but I think the veteran will win out. We’ll have to wait and see if and who they bring in.