For years now it has always seemed that the Quakes found themselves at the bottom of the league defensively. Even this season, despite a potent offense, they have been hamstrung by their atrocious defensive numbers. Naturally, many may feel that the keeper has played a role in the amount of goals allowed, but JT Marcinkowski has been a surprising brightspot for the side.
Historically, the Quakes have had some incredible keepers from Joe Cannon to Jon Busch and it’s clear that Marcinkowski aims to join them. His ambitions may well be realized, but it must come with context to his record.
Since becoming the starting keeper a few years ago, Marcinkowski’s goals allowed record would make him look more like a USL goalie than an MLS one. It is true that he has some areas that he must work on, but he has also been straddled with some of the worst defenses in MLS history. Not only have the defenses in front of him been awful, but even the pairings have never been the same.
Looking only at his record is truly deceiving, as by viewing his game both by watching him and comparing it to his stats show a different picture. His game is clearly that of a modern keeper, good with his feet and willing to take a gamble from time to time. In addition, his stats show a keeper that is elite in some areas despite the dreadful defenses.
If the Quakes ever hope to join the elite tier of MLS clubs once more, then Marcinkowski will have to play a large role in it. Not even in his prime yet, he has plenty of time to develop into one of the league’s top keepers and help shore up a dreadful Quakes defense.
Since winning the starting gig in mid 2020, Marcinkowski has seen the team trod out some of the worst defenses in recent MLS memory. A mixture of terrible performances and inconsistent defensive pairings has, for the most part, left him on an island having to up his performances every week.
Including this season, the Quakes have allowed over 80 goals with JT in net, a record that is hard to find in any comparable situation. Most teams that have seen a record like this would likely rotate keepers and defenders, which the Quakes have done with their defenders but not JT. For example, both FC Cincinnati and the LA Galaxy posted atrocious defensive numbers and opted to sign new keepers and defenders to varying levels of success.
It’s hard to discern who is really responsible for those numbers, as there is no good metric to use. To be fair, Marcinkowski has made some high profile errors and has, at times, struggled with his positioning. That should account for some of the record, but it would be unfair to give him the lion’s share of the blame given the cards he’s been dealt defensively.
Most keepers prefer to have a set pairing in front of them, as they can pick up on the habits of the defenders in front of them and position themselves accordingly. For example, Gianluigi Buffon had Bonucci and Chiellini in front of him for close to a decade and could position himself to anticipate their moves. This assures both the defenders and keeper as there is that necessary bit of trust there.
To rattle off all the center defensive pairings the Quakes have trotted out since 2020 would truly terrify all Quakes fans. From mixtures of Alanis and Kashia or Yueill and Calvo, JT has basically seen it all and has never been able to develop the relationship with his centerbacks. That’s why it’s so crucial that the team finally commits to a pairing for the rest of the season, to salvage something for the future.
This combination is why it’s hard to rank Marcinkowski’s positioning among MLS keepers, as by purely looking at the Quakes’ record, it makes sense to place him towards the bottom. However, the chaotic nature of the team can account for a great deal of those awful statistics.
To really understand Marcinkowski’s performance, a deeper dive into his statistical brilliance is needed. It’s really there where one can begin to appreciate his performances.
Recently Bill Reno, an expert in American goalies, posted a very interesting tweet that is linked here and shown below. The graph examines the performances of MLS starting keepers, comparing their wins above replacement and wins above replacement among other things.
To the surprise of many, Marcinkowski was ranked as the 7th best performing keeper in the MLS with an impressive array of stats. With an average of zero errors per game, the Quakes have a keeper in him that is secure with the ball and looking to make the correct move. This, along with other variables, has allowed him to not only get a positive wins above replacement score but also an elite one.
One of the really remarkable things to take away from this graph is the difficulty of the shots that JT has faced. To face shots of that quality and still keep a positive wins above replacement score is impressive and goes to further highlight the defensive troubles of the Quakes. It’s the marking of a keeper with excellent shot stopping abilities who has to deal with a leaky defense.
A truly modern keeper, that has created both impressive actions and headaches, Marcinkowski’s willingness to be aggressive both in and out of the box has transitioned the Quakes to the modern era. JT is in the upper echelon of MLS keepers when it comes to coming out of his box to challenge attackers. This has already been seen this season multiple times, as he will rush out of the box to rush any attacker who evades the Quakes’ defense.
Willing to come out for crosses at an elite level is a big plus for a team that has lacked in intimidating aerial duels. It of course can have its issues, as keepers who come out for crosses on corners are often leaking goals, but it also shows a keeper who is willing to keep a clean sheet at any cost. Also, it can reassure his defenders, by showing them that he is willing to bail them out of their mistakes.
JT is an impressive keeper who has played up to an elite level despite a defense that has let him down time after time. Quakes fans will surely be dreaming of seeing what he could do with a defense that is at the minimum at a league average level.
For a club that has churned out elite MLS keepers, it seems that the Quakes have another gem in Marcinkowski. A keeper that has performed at a top level despite being protected by an f-tier defense for most of his career. As he begins to enter his prime, it would only be appropriate for the club to reward his excellent play with a defense that can complement him.
Featured image: San Jose Earthquakes