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2017 Player Profiles: Matt Van Oekel

That beard! But what about his play?

MLS: Real Salt Lake at Houston Dynamo Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Van Oekel didn’t rack up a massive amount of minutes this season, and seeing as he was backup to the greatest MLS keeper of all time, that’s not much of a surprise. But we did get to see seven matches with him in the net. His option was declined, so there’s uncertainty about his future.

The Ranking

Why such a low rating? Here’s an indicator. His last outing for RSL was the June 3rd 6-2 trouncing by Dallas that followed his previous match three days prior where RSL was demolished 5-1 by Houston—you remember, that road trip to Texas that was the absolute low of our entire season (Wait, you don’t remember? You drank too much so you could forget? Yeah, I tried that.). Over the seven matches with Van Oekel minding the net, he gave up twenty-two goals; six were losses and one a draw. Poor guy didn’t play in a single win for RSL last year. That’s rough.

Our hirsute backup goalkeeper gave up 40% of RSL’s total season goals (22 of 55) playing in only 20% of matches. Over three goals per match. That’s a tough stat to have, especially as that’s the entirety of his MLS record.

A defense

It was his first season in MLS and much of the league took a sharp upturn in quality last year. Let’s not forget that he was the 2016 NASL Golden Glove winner. He’s had a long career and brings experience to the team. His sample size is small and skewed by multiple factors: a coaching change three matches into the season, RSL playing like garbage until July, shifting center backs, poor finishing, his first year with RSL and MLS.

So what’s next?

He’s big. He’s hairy. He should grow muttonchops. His option was declined by the club, so there are a few avenues for his future. He could have his contract renegotiated and remain with the team by signing a new contract. His 2017 contract had him at $97k, so maybe the club wants to pay him less but keep him around. He could go to another club through the waiver draft. He could find a home with another league. He could retire and open a crêpe food truck. Savory crêpes are awesome.

If he remains, expect him to remain as the primary backup to Nick Rimando. Could he take the reins at the end of Rimando’s career? Maybe. Based on last season’s stats? No. But it will really depend on what he’s able to demonstrate going forward. It’ll rely on what we see from Connor Sparrow. It’ll hinge on the transfer market.

If he isn’t back next season, RSL needs to fill that gap at backup keeper. I personally think his contract gets renegotiated and he suits up for RSL next year.

In all, we should expect—demand—more from Van Oekel if he’s with RSL in 2018. Those seven matches simply were not good enough. His time on the pitch (yep, I said pitch—come at me!) last season left much to be desired. He needs to step up and show why he earned that Golden Glove. It’s why he’s here. It’s what we pay to see and what he’s paid to do. He can do more and that’s what we should see. Must see.