Mason Stajduhar’s journey to playing in Major League Soccer has been well documented. His road to this point has been about as difficult as it gets. Six years of patience pays off though, because ahead of tonight’s home game against Inter Miami CF, Mason has started the last six games for the club. Not only has he started, but he’s performed about as well as can be expected of a young goalkeeper playing in MLS for the first time. Most impressively though, he’s shown growth and improvement with every game he’s played.
The broad numbers show that things got off to a rough start for Stajduhar against Atlanta United when he conceded twice in Orlando’s 3-2 comeback victory. Raw numbers can be deceptive though, because frankly there was nothing he could do about either of the rockets scored by Josef Martinez and Marcelino Moreno. Though he only made one save on the night, it was an absolutely massive stop on Erik Lopez to keep the deficit at one just 15 minutes into the game and he did well to stay composed after conceding under a minute into the match.
His next few games mirrored his debut pretty closely. In a 1-1 draw with Inter Miami, he could do nothing to prevent Kieran Gibbs’ equalizing header, with the ball placed precisely into the top corner courtesy of a powerful header. However, the one save he made on the night (while not officially given as a save) was a huge one, as he came off his line to deny Lewis Morgan in a 1-v-1 situation when the Lions were reeling almost immediately after conceding. Against FC Cincinnati three days later, it was much the same story. He could do next to nothing to prevent Brenner’s blast from 12 yards out that came at him through traffic, but he came up big when it mattered most. Late in the game Isaac Atanga got through 1-v-1 with a chance to seal three points for Cincy, only for Stajduhar to come off his line quickly, get big, and make the save to keep things tied at one apiece.
The next 1-1 draw in the league — this time against Nashville — saw Mason make three saves, his highest total in an MLS game. More impressive than the saves though, was the fact that he looked fairly composed and safe with the ball during a night when conditions were definitely on the wet side. He again did a particularly good job of coming off his line to shut down dangerous balls that came through the lines, and it was a pretty good outing considering the rough conditions.
His best game to date though, came in Orlando City’s most recent game, a 1-0 victory over the Chicago Fire last week. He had five saves in a Man of the Match performance in weather that made the previous game in Nashville look like a light drizzle. His two biggest stops of the night came towards the end of the match. The first was a flying save on a Robert Beric shot bound for the top corner, while the second showed off his reflexes when making a last-second save on a header from close range off a corner kick.
One of the biggest changes from his first game in purple to the most recent one has been that Stajduhar seems to have a better command of his area. Not only when it comes to claiming aerial balls or coming off his line, but he looks to be doing a good job of communicating with his center backs, something that can be difficult to do well as a young goalkeeper. It was great to see him step up when the Lions really needed him on Saturday, and to my eye he’s grown in confidence with each passing game.
Backup goalkeepers have one of the most difficult jobs in all of sports. They rarely get playing time, but are expected to perform at a high level on the occasions they’re called upon. The position has added importance for MLS teams whose starter is an international player, as they’ll need to field a backup for anywhere from roughly four to 10 games a season, depending on whether there are international tournaments taking place. Luckily for Orlando City, Stajduhar has deputized well and is growing before our eyes in the process. As frustrating as the string of 1-1 draws was, some of those results could have been much worse if not for the Homegrown’s work in between the sticks
While he may or may not play tonight with Pedro Gallese being healthy enough to start the MLS All-Star Game on Wednesday, it won’t be long before Mason is called upon again. World Cup qualifiers are right around the corner and El Pulpo will be called up to feature for Peru. That means that Stajduhar will likely play in the Sept. 4 game against the Columbus Crew and also the Sept. 10 game against Atlanta United since Peru’s last game of the window is the night before. Given what we’ve seen from him so far, there’s every reason to feel that the Lions will be in safe hands.