The list reads like one of those T-shirts: Tony + Kasey + Brad + Tim. From Tony Meola to Kasey Keller to Brad Friedel to Tim Howard, the U.S. men's national team spent two decades with an ace in net. (The shirt's hipster version includes Juergen + Marcus too, for Juergen Sommer, who played in the English first division, earning 10 caps and two World Cup roster spots for the U.S. between 1994 and 1998, and former Reading star Marcus Hahnemann.)

No matter the quality or depth of the 10 outfield players -- for as long as the majority of American fans can remember -- everyone knew the USMNT had a high quality goalkeeper to clean up the mess. At times, the performance rose to legendary: Keller single-handedly stopping a Brazilian onslaught at the 1998 Gold Cup, Friedel's 2002 World Cup heroics, Howard's 16-save show against Belgium in the 2014 World Cup. But beyond the heroics, the consistent steadiness of the netminders was the key.

For 20 years, one of, if not the best, player on the USMNT was the goalkeeper, succeeding for both country and club. Now, however? Meh.

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The situation is not dire. USMNT manager Gregg Berhalter has options in Matt Turner, Zack Steffen, Ethan Horvath, Sean Johnson and a handful of others coming through the ranks. Turner -- whose wild, wonderful and weird path to the English Premier League is a true American soccer success story -- played well between the posts during the 2022 World Cup. He's been a mostly solid No. 1 since taking the U.S. job, the recent debacle against Trinidad & Tobago more of an outlier than the norm.

But still, goalkeeping is now a relative spot of weakness -- an unusual position for the U.S. after years of never worrying about it. The top American goalkeepers these days are either not starting, or they've had to move to lesser clubs and easier leagues in search of playing time.

This perception of weakness is a reflection of past success and reality. Asked by ESPN about the heroes of the past, Pittsburgh Riverhounds goalkeeping coach Jon Busch summed it up thusly: "Maybe we got spoiled, right?"

Keller, who played in goal through those USMNT golden years, agrees.

"Where U.S. Soccer goalkeeping was in the 1990s and 2000s is something that is almost impossible to explain," Keller told ESPN by phone. "At one point, we had four starting goalkeepers in the Premier League, which is 20 percent of the league. It became normal, and there was this expectation that we're always going to have two or three starting goalkeepers in the Premier League, but it's not realistic to expect that would continue."

He added: "When you have success in a position that brings attention to other players from that country, people think, 'Oh, well, if Kasey can do it, great, then maybe Brad can do it. If Brad's doing it, then maybe Marcus can do it, and how about this young American?' so they bring Tim in. You have this conveyor belt."

Meola, Keller, Friedel and Hahnemann were all born between February 1969 and June 1972. That's a golden generation of goalkeepers, a level of success that is unsustainable. But the U.S. performance really has dropped off.

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Turner, the presumed No. 1 for the U.S., left Arsenal after making just seven appearances in all competitions for the club, and he has been up and down since joining Nottingham Forest. Among all 34 Premier League goalkeepers who have played this season, in goals prevented -- an advanced stat that looks at expected goals on target vs. goals conceded -- Turner ranks 23rd with minus-0.19 per 90 minutes. One tiny silver lining: Odisseas Vlachodimos, Turner's competition to start in goal at Forest, ranks even worse at minus-0.83 goals prevented-per-90, low enough for 32nd in the league. As a result, Turner has been able to win back the starting spot at Forest.

Nonetheless, Turner's numbers are far away from what he did with the New England Revolution -- his goals prevented-per-90 in his last two full Major League Soccer seasons were plus-0.20 (2021) and plus-0.37 (2020) -- albeit in a much more difficult league.

Horvath, consistently a plus-goalkeeper during his early years, also fell off with a goals prevented-per-90 of minus-0.03 during the 2022-2023 season at Luton Town, per ESPN Stats & Information. Since returning to Forest, he hasn't played, and hasn't even made the bench since early September. Steffen barely played between 2020 and 2022, then made 42 starts for Middlesbrough last season, where he posted an uninspiring goals prevented-per-90 of minus-0.05. He's played so little it's hard to know where the former Columbus Crew stalwart is mentally or physically.

Beyond those three, Drake Callender, Roman Celentano and Patrick Schulte have been solid in MLS, but that level of competition might be their ceiling. While 19-year-old Gaga Slonina, 19-year-old Chris Brady and 17-year-old Diego Kochen represent a talented, potential-packed next generation, they are a trio of teenagers with fewer than 100 first-team games between them.

"I think the pecking order now is Matt Turner and then whoever Gregg [Berhalter] thinks is next," Tony Meola told ESPN. "It's a tricky situation. We've never really had it, not in the goalkeeper position."

One question is whether this moment of positional insecurity is an unusual blip or a symbol of a more systemic issue. The answer, as always, is a little bit of both. The goalkeeper position is undergoing a metamorphosis where the traditional athletic strengths that Americans bring are no longer enough.


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"The role of the goalkeeper has changed immensely," former MLS goalkeeper Joe Cannon said. "In the last 10 or 15 years, you see goalkeepers who are able to play with their feet. This 'Brazilian goalkeeper' has kind of combined with what we would see with the athleticism of the United States goalkeeper. There's a little bit more nuance, a little bit more composure on the ball."

Perhaps it's not a surprise that Turner is an above-average shot-stopper and a below-average passer.

But it's also a matter of reps. Keller noted that he, Friedel and Hahnemann bounced around England, starting and succeeding in the second-division Championship before their strong Premier League showings.

"It is not easy to be thrown into a Premier League side and think you're going to be a successful starter with only MLS experience," Keller said. "You just don't make that big of a jump and think it's going to be seamless. Matt has 20 games experience in the topflight in Europe. He doesn't have 200 games experience in the topflight. You don't have the situational experience."

The biggest issue for all the goalkeepers is playing time: Fight to get into net, then stay there. On that front, Turner's return to the Forest cage is a positive sign, and Steffen's move to Colorado should open opportunities. Horvath needs to find a settled situation and Chelsea, which paid big money for Slonina, has a vested interest in their young goalkeeper continuing to get playing time on loan spells. There's Copa America this summer and the 2026 World Cup isn't too far off.

"They'll all be in the prime of their careers, looking at a home World Cup," said Aron Hyde, head of goalkeeping at Charlotte FC and former U.S. goalkeeper coach. "There can't be any more motivation for any of them really to get themselves into a position where they're playing well heading into '26."

Despite the recent wobbles, a smart bettor would take the U.S. getting its goalkeeping situation sorted. There's too much success to overlook.

"We have two and two and a half years to get this thing rolling in the right direction," Meola said. "Hopefully Gregg has five goalkeepers to choose from when we get to 2026. That wouldn't be a bad problem for us."

Matt + Zack + Ethan + Drake + Gaga, anyone? And don't forget the possibility of Roman + Patrick + Chris + Diego, either.