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Who will be NYCFC’s starting goalkeeper?

Luis Barraza is the heir apparent after Sean Johnson’s move to Toronto FC, but Matt Freese is making a case for himself.

Will he get the jersey with the “1” on the back? | Photograph by Katie Cahalin, courtesy

For the first time in the short history of New York City FC, the goalkeeper position is up for grabs.

When NYCFC joined MLS in 2015 it was with the deeply mediocre Josh Saunders between the sticks, a goalkeeper who put up some solid numbers at LA Galaxy in 2011 and 2012, but who always looked panicked when playing the Bronx. Saunders directed the defense like a toxic soccer dad who goes to all the away games: His endless screaming put the team on edge, and when NYCFC shipped a goal he pulled off the mental jujitsu of taking it personally and blaming everybody else. No wonder then-head coach Patrick Vieira benched Saunders in the final game of the 2016 season to give backup Eirik Johansen his MLS debut, then stuck with Johansen for the team’s first-ever appearance in the MLS Cup Playoffs. Unfortunately that didn’t go so well, but seemingly Vieira felt the seven goals Johnson let in were an improvement over what could have happened with Saunders on the field.

A few weeks later, NYCFC announced they snagged Sean Johnson from expansion side Atlanta United, who went on to sign Brad Guzan. The Johnson effect on the team was immediate. He provided a calming leadership to a jumpy backline, and as the defense grew in confidence it allowed the midfield to become more aggressive and progressive. Not to put too fine a point on it, the arrivals of Johnson and Maxi Moralez in 2017 changed everything at the club.

Now we’re about to undergo another change, as Luis Barraaza and Matt Freese compete to replace Johnson after his departure betrayal. For the first time in club history, the position of starting goalkeeper is up for grabs.

To be fair, Barraza is the heir apparent to Johnson. The 26-year-old was a standout backup to Johnson these past two seasons – he made four non-league appearances in 2022, posting a 3-1 record and notching two clean sheets – and he’s popular with his teammates. The 6’ 2” Barraza is good with his feet, and he knows how to function in a system that keeps possession and plays out of the back. Transfermarkt values Barraza at €100,000, up from €50,000 in 2021.

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