Of cabbages...
Of cabbages and keepers
August 28, 2007

This column was not supposed to go like this. As Jon Conway was having a damn good game in New England, we were all ready to praise him, draw comparisons between this year and last, and enlist hope that he will stay the starter down the stretch. And then, the own goal happened. Yes, that was just one moment -- one point-stealing moment -- but it was enough for us to doubt Metro's situation in the nets, doubt whether there truly is a starting-quality keeper on this side. And it shouldn't have come to this.

For after the 2006 regular season, when Conway rose to take the job away from Tony Meola, and played more that competently, with a 7-2-3 record and a sparkling 1.00 goals against average, we thought that the career backup might have turned the corner. But then, the playoffs happened, and although that goals against did not rise after Jon allowed just two in two games, that didn't tell the tale. The last goal, a short-side tally that should have been saved, cast a shadow of a doubt in not only ours, but, supposedly, Bruce Arena's head. So out went Meola and in came Ronald Waterreus, a veteran of European leagues, a former Dutch international who's seen it all, and who welcomed coming to America with open arms.

And the signing looked great from the onset. Four shutouts in the first four games, with Waterreus in net for seven of the eight halves (he exited the second match with hypothermia, with Conway sharing the clean sheet). The turning point came in Salt Lake, when not only did Waterreus allow his first goal, but also got injured late in the game. In-and-out of a lineup since, lateral movement and originally-hailed distribution greatly suffering, he has been a shadow of his former self. Since that injury in Utah, "The Walrus" is 2-4-1, with a disgusting 2.71 goals against. And here the stats tell the whole story, for many of those 19 goals allowed certainly looked saveable.

We haven't been spoiled by much as Metro fans, but we've always had good goalkeepers. From Meola's first stint, to Mike Ammann, to the forever King of East Rutherford Tim Howard, to Jonny Walker, we've rarely complained. Even the backups were more than capable: Zach Thornton, Howard, Paul Grafer (pants or not, he did deliver the lone playoff series win in Metro history), and Zach Wells. Even the return of Meola was not without its merit, as that regular-season-ending win over Chivas in 2005 stands as one of the best keeper performances in Metro history.

But we are not in the past; we're here in 2007, with the playoff push staring right at us. Waterreus has been terrible in his recent two-game stint, and missed the New England match due to "personal reasons". Conway has been uneven. So what does Metro do now? The amount if cabbage invested in Waterreus seems to suggest that we will see him again down the stretch, and hopefully he will be fully healed and recovers his early form. But what until then? The playoff spot is anything but sealed, and Metro can ill afford to drop more unnecessary points.

Are you ready, Danny Cepero?

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