RIVERHOUNDS GOALKEEPERS NOT PEDIGREE, BUT UP TO SNUFF

A revolving door should be installed in the front of the Riverhounds net. No, not for allowing goals in, but for the keeper that is in the mouth of that goal. In the last two years, the Riverhounds have fielded an unorthodox number of goalkeepers. As of right now, that tally is at seven. Goalkeeper coach Jeroen Walstra should be commended for his mentoring.

Let’s begin with a look at last year. The Hounds finished with nine wins, five draws, 14 losses, five points shy of a playoff spot and a -14 goal differential. Three goalkeepers were spread out over a season that could easily be forgotten. Hunter Gilstrap and Greg Blum were the club’s strong 1-2 punch in net. Both possessed great qualities, but injuries kept both of them off the field for a time. Gilstrap had nine starts, had a 1.96 goals against average and saved nearly 68% of the shots he faced. Blum only had three starts, allowed an average of three goals per game and saved 65% of the shots he faced. Enter Michael Lisch, a Houston Dynamo draft pick and one of the players that was sent to Pittsburgh as part of the affiliation between the two organizations. Lisch impressed then-head coach Justin Evans and then-interim coach Niko Katic. The Dynamo product saw much the season’s action, with 17 appearances, notching a team-best 1.47 goals against average and a strong 72% save percentage. All for nothing, though.

The overall theme for the Riverhounds in the off-season was change.

Glistrap signed with the Carolina Railhawks of NASL and recently did a stint on loan with the Charlotte Independence. After shoulder surgery and contract negotiations going sour, Blum decided to hang up the gloves. Lisch was a victim of a system with too many goalkeepers. Still in the Houston Dynamo organization, he’s been racking up the travel time between various loans, starting with the Charleston Battery and then moving to the Charlotte Independence. Lisch actually started in net in the June 13th match against the Riverhounds.

That meant the net was going to be run by fresh faces.

The front office for the Hounds wanted to make a few splashes with players and made sure of it with strong goalkeepers. Ryan Thompson was given the call. Hailing from Jamaica, the 30-year-old has made a name for himself. He was the first player from his country to play in the UEFA Champions League. Thompson started for Shamrock Rovers and made six other appearances for the Irish club in 2011. The Kingston man also notched himself a contract with NASL’s Tampa Bay Rowdies, but only made one start for them. Recently, Thompson was named into the Reggae Boyz squad for this year’s Copa America and Gold Cup.

Calle Brown saw action in a preseason matchup with the Riverhounds during his time at the University of Virginia. Brown helped his Cavaliers on to a 2-0 win that day and eventually to a NCAA championship. The thought is then that Walstra had his eyes set on Brown once he turned his tassel.

A logical move was to upgrade Riverhounds PDL netminder Ryan Hulings. The young man made an impression on the new coaching staff, run by former Charlotte Eagles man Mark Steffens. Hulings made ten appearances for the Hounds U-23s and has been with the club since 2013. Up to this point, his “claim to fame” was letting the last goal in against Wigan Athletic in a friendly, with Owen Coyle coming to the green keeper’s side to give him a postgame boost of confidence.

Now on to the 2015 season.

Thompson was given the outright start, but injuries knocked him to the sideline. He currently has started in eight games and has a 1.75 goals against average.

Bringing Brown in was a breath of fresh air, especially seeing the six-foot-five keeper fly into the air for a save. Brown has averaged less than one goal in all of his six starts.

Brown got the injury bug as well, which brought in Hulings. To the chagrin of supporters and critics, much has been learned from the howler let go two seasons ago. Hulings was the first Riverhound goalkeeper to notch a clean sheet in all competitions and was the first to get two as well. Both came second and third rounds of the US Open Cup. It’s also worth noting that Hulings was in net for the fabled Miracle on the Mon.

It may also be worth noting that the RIverhounds called upon an additional goalkeeper some assistance. Matt Lampson was loaned from the Columbus Crew of MLS for that June 13th game against Charlotte. He let in two goals, lost the game and was sent back from whence he came.

Moving down into the final stages of the USL season, the Riverhounds currently find themselves in fifth place, with hopes of either maintaining that spot or gaining a higher seed for the postseason. Right now, Thompson is serving his country in the knockout stages of the Gold Cup, with his number being called for the most recent game when starter Dwayne Miller was subbed off for injury. Thompson very well could start today against Haiti, which could set up a matchup against the United States.

Brown looks to be the starter in tonight’s game against Louisville City, a team that drew the Hounds 1-1 on April 19th. Thompson had five saves in that game, so Brown should take a look at the highlights, especially Matt Fondy and Magnus Rasmussen having strong seasons for the purple sluggers.

Many thanks to Ben Cole for submitting this article to Scratching the Pitch. Ben is a graduate assistant at Robert Morris University and can probably be found in and around the press box at Highmark Stadium whenever the Riverhounds are at home. Ben is a long-time fan of the Riverhounds and former contributor at Reckless Challenge.

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