Orlando City’s starting goalkeeper for the first two games of the 2019 Major League Soccer season has been Brian Rowe. The MLS veteran has been receiving criticism from some fans, but he remains Head Coach James O’Connor’s best option.
Heading into the 2019 MLS preseason, the goalkeeper position was certainly a problem. After a poor 2018 season by third-year starter Joe Bendik, the club decided to part ways with him and backup Earl Edwards, Jr. That left the team with three goalkeepers that had minimal experience in the top division.
The Lions have two returning goalkeepers in Adam Grinwis and Mason Stajduhar. Grinwis was signed a year prior from Saint Louis FC of the United Soccer League, making five appearances during his first MLS campaign. Stajduhar was a Homegrown signing out of the club’s academy in 2016 and was recently loaned to the Tulsa Roughnecks for the remainder of the season. The club also signed Greg Ranjitsingh, who led O’Connor’s Louisville City side to back-to-back USL championships.
Looking for a veteran presence at the position, the club brought Rowe in as a trialist. While not a longtime starter, Rowe has by far the most experience at the MLS level, having been in the league since 2012. He’s made 69 appearances with 66 starts in his seven years in the league. In 2016, he was the number one for the LA Galaxy, making 31 appearances with 30 starts.
Grinwis played well when called upon in 2018, but only made five appearances in a season that was all but over. The club has stated that they are looking to win now and there are many unknowns with the 26-year-old goalkeeper. Rowe, on the other hand, has gone through a full MLS season as a starter, providing the experience that no other goalkeeper on the roster possesses.
Similar to a quarterback in football, there is no more popular player on a soccer team than the backup goalkeeper. Despite the fact that the three goals conceded in the first two games were not his fault, he will be forced to take responsibility on the stat sheet, resulting in people calling that he be replaced with one of the young, inexperienced backups. While many may think they want that change, changing goalkeepers is rarely the answer, especially when those goalkeepers have yet to prove themselves.
It may be a fair assessment to say that the club should’ve brought in a more experienced goalkeeper to replace Bendik during this past off-season. However, the club will not be bringing in any new goalkeepers, meaning that those on the roster are what O’Connor has to choose from. When looking at the goalkeepers available, it’s indisputable that Rowe is the best option.
When a team plays well, the fans are more likely to have patience with the roster. Given Orlando City’s poor play over the past four years, it’s expected that many fans will be unhappy. Despite the calls for O’Connor to replace Rowe as the starting goalkeeper, he’s the best option available and since the club is not going to be signing any new goalkeepers, he is the right person to be starting.