Loons still might be worried about goalkeeping this season

It’s been a big week for Minnesota United transfer news, most of which is yet to be officially announced. Ménder García is on his way in as the Loons’ 140th Designated Player striker in the past three years. Jonathan González, the former U.S. youth international who switched to play for Mexico, seems to be on his way as well. But one of the big stories was about who wasn’t on his way out – specifically, goalkeeper Tyler Miller.

The Loons have been lucky at keeper, or overloaded, depending on how you look at things. In Miller and Dayne St. Clair, they have two MLS-quality keepers – surely an embarrassment of riches, given that several MLS teams have zero. Even before the season began, there were heavy rumors that the Loons would deal one of the two. And then the Loons began the year with Miller, watched St. Clair play the game of his life in New Jersey after replacing Miller due to illness, and have rolled with the young Canadian since.

Miller has thus been relegated to spot duty – two starts in the U.S. Open Cup, plus half of a friendly against SC Paderborn. It’s certainly not a situation Miller wants to be in, not when he’s in a contract year (assuming the team doesn’t pick up his option for next season). Aside from contract implications, though, Miller is good enough to be a starting MLS keeper, to be playing every week instead of just warming up before the game and waving at the crowd.

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So why would the Loons keep him? I wonder if the answer isn’t in the following two stat lines (numbers from American Soccer Analysis).

Dayne St. Clair, pre-international break:  12 GA on 17.42 expected goals, #1 in MLS.

Dayne St. Clair, post-international break: 14 GA on 11.96 expected goals, #30 (of 44) in MLS.

From that New York game, right up through the June international window, St. Clair was the most valuable player in the league. Thanks to him – and thanks almost entirely to him – the Loons didn’t drop into the basement; every game, he seemed to make four or five world-class saves to keep Minnesota in a game.

Since then, though, his numbers have gone the other direction. It’s impossible not to recall his Jekyll-and-Hyde performance at the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021; after unexpectedly driving Minnesota’s stretch run in 2020, a period in which he was the third-best keeper in the league (going by the same stats as above), he cratered at the beginning of the following season  (ending the year 49th of 66 keepers) and was replaced by Miller.

(I should note that other data isn’t as stark. The numbers at FBRef.com, from StatsBomb, have St. Clair with positive numbers both before and after the break. In those numbers, he was +5.1 post-shot expected goals minus goals allowed before the break, and is +0.6 after the break – so otherworldly in the first half, and closer to average in the second half.)

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Is Miller a trade chip? Sure, and for the right price, I think the Loons would still let him go. But so far, Miller seems to be more valuable to Minnesota than he is to anyone else in the league. And the reason for that might be that, despite that first-half performance, United is wondering in the back of their minds if they might still need an insurance policy this season.

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