Goalkeepers draw both praise and ire in abundance. They stand isolated in a position of power and pressure. A solitary position such as this allows critics to more easily pick out flaws or possibly greatness. The best keepers and the worst are spotted readily. However, what separates one quality keeper from another? How do we know which goalkeeper is stronger when there is more than one with extreme talent? Or more pointedly, for Mexico at least, how do you separate out four great goalkeepers from each other?
Only one goalkeeper can start for the national team. For some countries this is certainly not a problem (England, being one). And there are nations that have more than one quality keeper without controversy over who attains the starting position. Even at the height of Pepe Reina's play at Liverpool, there was never a question that Iker Casillas would be starting for Spain. Tim Howard has commanded a starting role despite the wealth of strong US keepers. Howard and Iker are (and have been) a clear step above their tough competition. The ranking of Mexican goalkeepers bears more trouble.
Mexico has four goalkeepers who could start for many nations. They are all incredibly talented. In the following paragraphs, I will attempt to delineate the attributes that separate these keepers from others and each other.
Current Squad: Cruz Azul (Mex)
National Team Caps: 14
Before proceeding in breaking down the game of Jesus Corona, I'm obliged to offer a disclaimer. I am utterly biased in this assessment. As a Cruz Azul season ticket holder, I have the pleasure of seeing Corona in action frequently. I’m a firm believer in his brilliance.
For me, Corona’s most obvious attribute is his toughness. Mental toughness, sure, but I’m referring to his slightly edgy, kind of scary toughness. He seems to have a little bit of the crazy in him. This can be a good thing for a goalkeeper. Much like a closer in baseball, the keeper position requires the goalkeeper to be unflappable and unfazed by anything. We shouldn’t mess with them; we should just let them do their thing. Corona looks angry and ready to take it out on opposing forwards when taking the pitch (like this guy). This is a good thing.
Corona has a knack for getting to balls that look completely out of reach. He makes dramatic diving saves with regularity and can steal what look like sure goals from the opposition. It’s hard to ask for much more from the position.
*Nitpicky attempt to find a weakness: Other than the vague sense that he might jump the crazy line and bash someone’s face in, it would be corner kicks. While never getting trapped in the dreaded no-man’s land between the goal and the opposition, Corona tends to stay on his line a little too much.
Current Squad: Ajaccio (FRA)
National Team Caps: 48
Guillermo Ochoa is no stranger to national team play. The most capped of the four keepers, Ochoa is the most likely choice to be in goal for El Tri. Although this had been true before, but then Ochoa was inexplicably left on the sidelines.
Ochoa is an all around great keeper. If you can look past his hair, there are many things he does well and little he doesn’t. His greatest attribute is probably his overall athleticism. He is a great athlete who utilizes solid technique. He is Tim Duncan-ish in that respect.
Current Squad: Toluca (MEX)
National Team Caps: 9
Not to sound like a complete moron, but Talavera is simply a big dude. He is physically large, but he also plays big. He has a Peter Cech-ian presence in front of goal, minus the sweet helmet and occasional facemask. In full disclosure, Talavera is only 6’ 2”. He’s tall, but not huge. Yet, Alfredo Talavera seems much larger than he is while he’s in goal. To move and jump like a shorter man while having the advantage of height is not exclusively valuable for a football goalkeeper. It sure does help, though.
Alfredo Talavera is not currently blessed with a stellar defensive squad. Toluca does not give him the benefit of many easy outings. He always seems to be in the proper position for the onslaught that is coming his way. Talavera has been well-coached in the position and uses these skills effectively.
*Nitpicky attempt to find a weakness: The majority of Talavera’s experience with El Tri came from last year’s championship Gold Cup run. While being competent in goal, Talavera never dazzled or staked a firm claim for the position long term. He was merely competent.
Current Squad: Monterrey (MEX)
National Team Caps: 1
I don’t know a lot about hockey, nor do I care to. However, in playoff hockey, there is nothing more important than the hot goalie. Ice hockey keepers can apparently get on hot streaks where they simply take over games. The teams that ride their hot goalie often go far, sometimes far enough to hoist the Stanley Cup. Not all goalkeepers have this ability, but the ones that do can win some huge games for your team (probably even some your team has no business winning).
Jonathan Orozco is much like one of these hockey goalies. He can get on hot streaks where he plays like one of the world’s best. This past Liguilla featured the hot streaking Orozco. His play against Club America and Santos Laguna, in the semifinals and finals respectively, nearly propelled Monterrey to another championship. Through the final four matches, only three goals made it into his net. Against high-scoring teams such as America and Santos, this is not to be taken lightly.
Obviously, one of the most desirable attributes for a keeper is having split-second reflexes. These reflexes are most notably tested when opposing shooters draw close to goal. Orozco has some crazy-quick reflexes. He has the ability to stop shots from the closest of ranges, somehow getting his hands where they need to be. Give him a pair of skates, and he might actually be a decent hockey goalie.
*Nitpicky attempt to find a weakness: Orozco has spent his entire career with Monterrey and their youth system. He has consistently had the benefit of a strong defense and solid team approach. He has had little national team experience. It is a little less certain how Orozco would perform out of his comfort zone.
Four quality keepers … but only one can play. Chepo de la Torre can’t go wrong (and likely can’t go right). Whichever keeper gets the nod will be out there on the island for the world to pick apart.
**photograph by Kris Burns. His work could be found here.