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RSL’s goalkeeping woes demand decisive resolution

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Zac MacMath and Andrew Putna have not impressed in a very strange season. Is it time to give Ochoa minutes?

MLS: Real Salt Lake at Minnesota United FC Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

It is not a great position Real Salt Lake has currently found themselves in. After more than a decade of Nick Rimando minding the nets, we have been tasked with our very first selection problem in that position.

Real Salt Lake is a far cry from where they were when Nick Rimando was backed up by Jeff Attinella, Josh Saunders, Kyle Reynish, or several others. One wonders where Zac MacMath rates among those backups, and how he might have served as a capable backup for Rimando in past years.

But now, truly sans-Rimando, questions are being asked, and they are not entirely pleasant ones. The core of the quandary: Who should start at goalkeeper? Do we have that player on the team?

Our options, to this point, have not produced.

Zac MacMath has looked shaky week-in, week-out, and he’s been at the center of some very bad goalkeeping in 2020. It is a ridiculously unusual season, certainly, and I know he needs the benefit of the doubt in some way. But he has cost Real Salt Lake points, and that is not something to which we have become accustomed over the years. It is interesting, of course, to note that he has been dropped by every team at which he has played — though certainly, I don’t think anyone expected Colorado Rapids to replace him with Tim Howard in 2016. That was a wild move.

Andrew Putna has looked similarly shaky, but somehow less so — for instance, he has not appeared completely frozen defending a shot, allowing an attacker to bypass him completely.

David Ochoa has been out with a thumb injury, but even he has a not-insubstantial amount of doubt associated with him, owing to his age (19! he’s a young one), and the fact that he has shown some eccentricity with Real Monarchs that has landed him criticism — taunting opposing fans, for instance, comes to mind.

But of the three, Ochoa is the only one who hasn’t played, and that’s down to a thumb injury suffered — well, at some point in 2020. I think. It didn’t require surgery, but it has kept him out of training. He is reportedly free from injury now, but he has not yet been spotted even on Real Salt Lake’s bench. If there is a time to give him a try, it is now.

That’s in part because there is real risk in bouncing between two goalkeepers all season. Neither Putna nor MacMath will gain the requisite confidence to grow into the position, and certainly neither would gain a good flow within the season. For now, it does appear that Putna has won the starting spot, with MacMath moved to the “B” team (the same we saw on Sunday in that stinker of a 4-0 loss, disappointingly.)

Real Salt Lake needs to be quick and decisive here, because what’s happening right now is not helping anybody, and it is costing the team points repeatedly. If David Ochoa is ready to play, he should be given a shot, and he must be given more than a few matches. He has not been tested in Major League Soccer, and there will be a learning curve, no matter his level of talent.

It is entirely possible that Ochoa will not play in 2020 for Real Salt Lake, especially as we still haven’t seen a “phase two” schedule, and 2020 is the strangest year in Major League Soccer, which is by all accounts a very strange league indeed.

But here’s hoping we see him soon, because what we have now is simply not working, and if Real Salt Lake wants to make the playoffs, they had better find a solution quickly. Right now, it is actively costing the team points.