HERRIMAN, Utah – Since the start of the 2017 USL regular season, only one team has faced more penalty kicks as a team than Real Monarchs SLC, which has given opponents 14 opportunities to score from the penalty spot in that span.
Thanks to the goalkeeping trio of Connor Sparrow, Jake Leeker and Andrew Putna, that’s proven perfectly fine for the defending USL Regular Season champions.
With Sparrow leading the way with four individually – the most of any goalkeeper since the start of last season – and Leeker having recorded three – all of which have come this season – the trio has combined to save nine of those 14 attempts, a success rate of 64 percent.
Contrast that with the success rate from the spot by the league’s attackers over the same span of 75.7 percent and the Monarchs’ success in keeping opponents from finding the net looks all the more remarkable, but the level of preparation the organization puts into details that will help maximize the potential for success is something the club believes is a contributing factor.
|Name||Club||Penalties Saved||Penalties Faced|
|Connor Sparrow||Real Monarchs SLC||4||6|
|Jake Leeker||Real Monarchs SLC||3||5|
|Mitch Hildebrandt||FC Cincinnati/ATL UTD 2||3||11|
|Kendall McIntosh||Portland Timbers 2||3||12|
“Saving penalties is always a combination of factors,” said Monarchs goalkeeper coach Matt Glaeser. “Connor and Jake are both talented goalkeepers who read the game well, they each have techniques they use to analyze players and make decisions. Their individual strengths coupled with scouting and preparation with our staff have helped us in those situations.”
One of the key areas for the Monarchs is video study, where the goalkeepers can build an idea of upcoming opponent’s tendencies from previous games. The goalkeepers themselves also look for tells from the body language of the shooter in the buildup to the shot, with a focus for Sparrow on whether the shooter’s hips open up in the final motion of the shot.
Even with that level of preparation, though, the numbers when broken out still feel out of the ordinary for the goalkeepers themselves.
Real Monarch SLC goalkeeper Connor Sparrow training with Monarchs goalkeeper coach Matt Glaeser. | Photo courtesy Real Monarchs SLC
“The success I have had is a little surprising due to that percentage,” said Sparrow. “On the other hand, though, typically the pressure is on the shooter.”
“Having this much success with PKs is obviously surprising because it is such a difficult feat to achieve,” added Leeker. “But then again, from the amount of scouting time we put in, I am glad to see our efforts paying off.”
Of course, having someone like Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando – a legendary penalty-saver in his own right – certainly adds to the level of knowledge that’s available to the Monarchs’ standouts. Rimando holds the MLS record with 23 penalty-kick saves in the regular season, which included a remarkable two-season stretch where he allowed only two penalty-kick goals on eight attempts in the 2013-14 seasons. The former U.S. international’s insight has proven incredibly valuable to the rest of the Real goalkeeping corps.
“Learning from the best goalkeeper in the history of the league is a fantastic position to be in,” said Leeker. “I watch everything he does and try to soak up as much of it as possible. He is a great guy and willing to help with any questions I may have.
“Obviously, he is highly successful in this league, and being able to observe him train every day helps you learn,” added Sparrow. “It means a lot because, although he is capable of competing at such a high level, he never forgets about the guys underneath him.”
As the Western Conference-leading Monarchs defend their undefeated home record this season this Saturday night in a top-two clash with Phoenix Rising FC (10 p.m. ET | Match Center | ESPN+), the club is certainly in good hands with its last line of defense.