New York City FC has a number of positional needs with the season fast approaching.
All signs point to Yangel Herrera - the defensive heart of the team - leaving New York City for Europe. While homegrown teenager James Sands showed promise in three starts last year, replacing Herrera would be a massive jump for a player that only has 246 professional minutes under his belt.
Beyond Herrera, you’d like the Pigeons to add depth at right back and forward. It increasingly looks like the replacement for David Villa will arrive in the summer, rather than in January, and the team has been extremely quiet in terms of potential moves.
One area where you might think the team was set would be goalkeeper. Sean Johnson distinguished himself last season with stellar individual play, singlehandedly keeping the team in games in stretches where New York City might’ve had a losing streak. Backstopping Johnson are Brad Stuver and Jeff Caldwell.
Which is why it was more than a little strange to see the Pigeons trading their first-round pick (the 19th) and $75,000 in allocation money to the LA Galaxy for their first round pick (the 12th). And then using that pick to select not a forward or midfielder or a defender...but a goalkeeper!
Namely, Marquette goalkeeper Luis Barraza.
While the pick might seem strange in isolation, in context it makes a little more sense. Barraza played all four years at Marquette, where he distinguished himself as he developed as a player under the tutelage of Marquette head coach Louis Bennett and goalkeeper Graham Shaw. Although Barraza was a graduate of the U.S. Development Academy (the highest level of youth soccer), he was still a bit raw when he arrived in Milwaukee.
By the time he graduated, though, Barraza was statistically one of the best keepers in American college soccer. He finished the campaign with the nation’s 10th-best save percentage (.839) and 10th-best saves per game average (5.20), while ranking 21st in total saves (78) and 57th overall in goals against average (.984). In addition, he helped lead Marquette to the Big East tournament finals for the first time since 2013, and secured four shutouts on the year, finishing his career with 10.
Beyond the numbers, though, a few things stand out. According to Louis Bennett, Barraza’s shot stopping ability distinguished him. “He’s an unbelievable shot-stopper,” Bennett said. “He’s got a sixth sense....He’s got unbelievable reactions. I think that’s one of the things that sets him apart.” Observers at the combine also noted that Barraza — and here’s why New York City probably picked him — was particularly good at playing with the ball at his feet.
Will Barraza displace Johnson as the first-choice keeper? That’s unlikely, at least right now. But it wouldn’t surprise me if manager Domè Torrent decided to replace Stuver or, especially, Caldwell, with Barraza. That would give Torrent the option to use Barraza in Open Cup games and exhibitions, and see whether, eventually, Barraza could take over for Johnson.