Joe Willis may not be brought up in many conversations about the best goalkeepers in MLS, but one thing is certain — the man has a knack for stopping penalties.
In the 2012 MLS Cup Playoffs, Willis came into the game after first choice D.C. United ‘keeper Bill Hamid got a red card. Willis stopped the ensuing penalty kick and kept a clean sheet to secure D.C. United’s playoff win.
Last season, during the Western Conference Championship, Willis once again came up huge when he saved a penalty against the Seattle Sounders — although the Houston Dynamo would end up losing the game.
On Saturday, that knack was on display against FC Dallas when the 29-year-old made the play of the game by stopping a Dallas penalty to preserve a 1-1 score in the season’s first Texas Derby match.
FC Dallas winger Michael Barrios got a pass in the box but before he could get a shot off, Dynamo defender Adolfo Machado clipped him on the legs. Referee Hilario Grajeda pointed to the spot, awarding FC Dallas a penalty in the 60th minute.
Dallas’ Roland Lamah stepped to convert the penalty and sent his effort right but Willis read the shot, and dived left to block it. And he recovered fast enough to snare the ensuing rebound.
The penalty save is Willis’ second of the year and third with the Dynamo in the regular season.
“I’ve had plenty scored on me in the past but I had a feeling of which way he was going to go and I was fortunate to get my legs to it,” Willis said after the game. “Once I saw the rebound I just tried to get up as quick as I could and react and fortunately I was able to save the ball.”
Had Willis studied up on where Lamah likes to place his penalty kicks?
“It was instincts at that point,” Willis said. “I looked up at some of the players on our team standing around the 18 and some of them were pointing to my left and some of them were pointing to my right so I decided to just make my own decision.”
Asked to reveal what teammates were pointing where, Willis refused, smiling as he said that he didn’t want to throw his teammates under the bus.
Luis Gil, who played with one of MLS's all-time best penalty shot-stoppers in Nick Rimando, said Willis “came up big time” for Houston on Saturday.
Dynamo head coach Wilmer Cabrera agreed.
“[Willis] showed his mentality. He shows that when he needs to be there and save us, is what we need from a good ‘keeper,” Cabrera said. “Today, Joe was very important to keep the game 1-1.”