Goalkeepers take center stage this weekend when Houston Dynamo visit Real Salt Lake
The Dynamo face Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday, putting Tally Hall at the opposite end of the field to Nick Rimando.
In all probability they won't come within 100 yards of each other during the game, but Hall agrees there is a degree of rivalry between two goalkeepers hoping to be on the plane to Brazil for next year's World Cup finals.
"I look forward to being on the same field with him because he's been successful for so long, he’s tried and proven and one of the best in the league. You look at him and it’s fun being on the field with players of high caliber. Whether that’s goalkeeper or forward. You know you're going to see a good performance out of that team, out of Rimando, he's been consistent for so long," said Hall.
"As another goalkeeper you look at it and say 'ok, let’s battle'. It's fun. We don't get to shoot on each other but we’re on the same field competing so you have that intensity and for me that’s what the game’s about."
A glance at Hall's statistics confirms something that anyone who's seen the Dynamo this season could tell you: he's one of the league's best. Among regular players, Rimando has the highest save percentage in MLS this year, stopping 78 percent of shots fired at him. Hall is joint-third, with an impressive 74 percent.
That's an upgrade from the 2012 regular season, when Hall's figure was 68 percent. The number also reflects well on Houston's back line: every goalkeeper relies on a solid defense to help boost their saves-to-shots ratio by minimizing the number of close-range, unstoppable opportunities. Hall has three more MLS appearances than Rimando so far this year and has made 64 saves to Rimando's 58, and more than twice as many catches.
Rimando earned his first cap back in 2002 and has often served as a third-choice for the U.S. since, but he was between the posts for Jurgen Klinsmann's side in their victorious Gold Cup campaign last month and has garnered plenty of praise lately for his performances, not least for RSL in last Saturday's 2-2 tie with the Colorado Rapids.
Hall is yet to play for the U.S. but is in the conversation to be one of the back-ups to Everton's Tim Howard. The Washington state native was called in to the squad for the friendly against Canada at BBVA Compass Stadium last January and the World Cup qualifier against Jamaica two months ago. He was named to the inactive roster for last week's MLS All-Star Game.
Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear reckons the pair are among the best around. "I think so, Nick’s been good for many, many years and I think this year Tally is up at the top for MLS goalkeepers," he said. "Obviously I’m biased but I see him day in day out, I think he’s had a fantastic year. Both of those guys are involved with the national team camps, and you can see the reason why. There’s good goalkeepers all around the league and when you think of the top guys I think those guys definitely come in the conversation."
Hall went to San Diego State University and was chosen by the Los Angeles Galaxy in the fourth round of the 2007 MLS SuperDraft. It's fair to say that his selection was overshadowed by other news: a day earlier, the Galaxy signed David Beckham. Instead of joining the Galaxy, Hall went to Denmark to play for Esbjerg, returning in 2009 and landing with Houston.
Hall made his Dynamo debut in the Open Cup in 2009 and was a backup in the league to Pat Onstad. An imposing presence at 6 feet 4 inches, Hall became a first-choice in 2011 and has featured in almost every game since. He is the Dynamo's only ever-present in MLS this season.
"He's really consistent. Knock on wood there hasn’t been anything this year that I could say he could do a lot better on," Houston goalkeeper coach Tim Hanley told HoustonDynamo.com. "He’s having a good year and playing the way it should be played, nice and simple. And doing what his job is, playing to his strengths, being a big presence out on the field. I think he’s doing great.
"He’s always been self-motivated, he goes off and works out harder than anybody, he really does. Going in with the national team he sees that there are parts of his game, not just the physical part that he [wants to work on]. Now it’s like, 'I need to refine this thing, need to refine that'. He’s improved in the areas that he’s really tried to, including distribution and game management. I think he's been excellent."
Rimando is 34, six years older than Hall. While the trend for outfield players is that younger is better because the modern game is ever more fast-paced and physical, Hanley believes the reverse holds true for goalkeepers: these days they can reach their peak as late as their early thirties.
That suggests Hall should continue to improve in the coming years - and that there is still plenty of time for Hall's promising understudies, 24-year-old Tyler Deric and 20-year-old Erich Marscheider, to develop to their full potential.
"There comes a point when yes, you can tell they’ve lost a bit, you can tell a 'pop' has gone and their kicking and their jumping’s not quite as good. For different guys it’s for different reasons. But I don’t think he's at his prime yet. And he works out so hard, his regimen, his discipline off the field is so good that he’s going to play a lot longer than some guys," said Hanley.
"Now being so young and sprightly and all this stuff is less important. I think game management is more important. And I would push prime to 30-32, I really would. And you look at the guys in the league now that have recently retired and they’re 40 and they were still doing OK."
Since RSL are the top scorers in MLS so far this year and the Dynamo's forwards were highly dangerous in last week's 3-1 win over the Columbus Crew, both Rimando and Hall could be showing off their skills on Saturday night in one of MLS's biggest games of the weekend.
Tom Dart is a contributing writer to HoustonDynamo.com. Former editor and reporter for The Times of London, Dart currently freelances for The Guardian and SI.com.