On April 25, 2020, Between the Sticks turns one year old. To celebrate the site’s anniversary (as well as its 50th post), goalkeeper journalist Mouhamad Rachini is ranking the 10 best goalkeepers from each of the five continents; Africa, Asia/Oceania, Europe, North/Central America, and South America.
Goalkeepers are ranked on a mix of different factors, including team and individual honours, longevity, quality of leagues they played in, peak, and statistical success.
Goalkeepers are also grouped based on the country they REPRESENT, not the country they were born in. For example, Steve Mandanda, despite being born in an African country, is considered to be a European goalkeeper because he plays for France internationally.
You can access each piece by clicking on the attached hyperlink.
Brad Guzan (USA): A two-time MLS All-Star and 2017 MLS Cup champion, Guzan has spent considerable time playing in England — where he helped Aston Villa reach the 2010 League Cup final — and his homeland, the United States. With 64 international caps to his name, Guzan is the USA’s most-capped internationally-active goalkeeper.
Guillermo Ochoa (Mexico): A Mexican national team fan-favourite with over 100 caps, Ochoa recieved critical international acclaim in each of the last two World Cups. Known more for his international exploits than his achievements at the club level, Ochoa did amass over 270 appearances for Club América between 2004 and 2011, winning a CONCACAF Champions’ Cup.
Luis Gabelo Conejo (Costa Rica): Conejo’s crowning moment came during the 1990 World Cup; after helping Costa Rica reach the knockout stage, he was officially recognized as one of the tournament’s top two goalkeepers. A four-year national team veteran, Conejo was recognized by the IFFHS as North/Central America’s second best goalkeeper of the 20th century.
Tony Meola (USA): One of Major League Soccer’s first cult-status heroes, Meola was the USA’s starting goalkeeper in both the 1990 World Cup — their first World Cup appearance in 40 years — and the 1994 World Cup. Meola ranks third all-time in national team history in international caps (100), wins (37) & clean sheets (32).
10. Shaka Hislop (Trinidad & Tobago, multiple clubs, 1992 – 2007)
Shaka Hislop first broke onto the scene with Reading in 1992. In two seasons with the club, he helped them earn promotion to the English second division in his second season and finish second in the league in his third. In both seasons, he was named Reading’s Player of the Year.
A two-time FA Cup finalist with Newcastle United and West Ham United, Hislop was also a part of the Newcastle team that finished second to Manchester United in the 1996-97 Premier League season.
Eligible to play for either England or Trinidad & Tobago due to him being born in London, Hislop opted for the latter despite representing the former’s U-21 team. Hislop made just 26 appearances for the Soca Warriors, but two of them came in the 2006 World Cup; the country’s first-ever World Cup appearance. Hislop appeared in two games — a 0-0 draw against Sweden and a 2-0 loss to England.
9. Nick Rimando (USA, Miami Fusion / DC United / Real Salt Lake, 2000 – 2019)
Nick Rimando is the greatest goalkeeper in Major League Soccer’s history, and it’s really not even close. Rimando holds the MLS records for career MLS appearances (514), wins (223), clean sheets (154) and saves (1,705). Although MLS has seen some incredible goalkeepers, including American icons Tony Meola and Tim Howard, none have been able to dominate the league quite like the six-time All-Star.
A two-time MLS Cup champion, Rimando’s specialty are his penalty saves. The 5 ft 9 American stopped nearly 30% of all the penalties he faced in MLS. He displayed his penalty-saving prowess during the 2009 MLS Cup playoffs; he saved three penalties in the Eastern Conference final shootout, then saved two more in the MLS Cup final shootout to clinch the championship for Real Salt Lake. Rimando was recognized as the MLS Cup’s MVP that year.
A member of the USA’s 2014 World Cup squad, Rimando backstopped the States to Gold Cup glory in 2013.
8. Craig Forrest (Canada, multiple clubs, 1985 – 2002)
Canada’s all-time greatest goalkeeper, Craig Forrest spent his entire 17-year club career playing in England. Forrest made his debut in 1985 as a teenager with Ipswich Town. He amassed over 260 league appearances for the club, including appearances in the English Premier League, before joining West Ham United in 1997. Forrest was voted both Ipswich Town’s Players’ Player of the Season and Fans’ Player of the season for 1994-95.
A two-time Canadian International Player of the Year, Forrest was part of a crowning moment in Canadian soccer history in 2000. That year, to the shock of the Americas, Forrest and Canada won their first-ever CONCACAF Gold Cup. Forrest played a substantial role in the victory; he won Most Valuable Goalkeeper and MVP honours after conceding just three goals and saving two penalties — one in the semi-final and one in the final.
In 2012, Forrest was named to Canada’s all-time men’s XI.
7. Kasey Keller (USA, multiple clubs, 1989 – 2011)
One of the first American goalkeepers to truly establish himself oversees, Kasey Keller enjoyed a lengthy career that saw him make a name for himself as a reliable goalkeeper in England, Spain and Germany.
The native of Olympia kicked off his European career with Millwall, with whom he made over 175 appearances and won the club’s Player of the Year award for 1992-93. And after departing Millwall in 1996, Keller featured for the likes of Leicester City — with whom he won the 1997 League Cup — Rayo Vallecano, Tottenham, Southampton, Borussia Mönchengladbach and Fulham, before retiring with the Seattle Sounders in 2011.
A member of the USA’s century club thanks to his 102 international caps, Keller is the States’ all-time leader in international clean sheets with 47. The three-time U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year is also a three-time Gold Cup champion, having kept a clean sheet in the 2005 edition’s final.
6. Oswaldo Sánchez (Mexico, multiple clubs, 1993 – 2014)
Considered to be one of Mexico’s all-time greatest goalkeepers, Oswaldo Sánchez spent his entire 21-year career in his homeland. Sánchez made his debut as a 20-year-old for Club Atlas in 1993, and he’d go on to feature for three of Mexico’s biggest clubs; Club América, Chivas Guadalajara & Santos Laguna.
Sánchez had more success with the latter two. With Guadalajara, Sánchez captured the 2006 Apertura; his first Mexican first division title. And with Santos Laguna, Sánchez won two league titles — the 2008 Clausura and the 2012 Clausura — and his only Copa MX championship in 2014. He also won the CONCACAF Champions League’s Golden Glove award after backstopping Santos to the 2013 final.
A six-time Primera División Best Goalkeeper and two-time league Golden Ball recipient, Sánchez earned 99 caps with Mexico’s senior national team. He’s a two-time Gold Cup winner with El Tri, and he was awarded the 2005 Confederations Cup’s Golden Glove following Mexico’s fourth-place finish in the tournament.
5. Brad Friedel (USA, multiple clubs, 1992 – 2015)
One of the Premier League’s most consistent goalkeepers, Brad Friedel spent 17 seasons playing football in England. Of those 17 seasons, Friedel made 30 or more appearances in all but six of them. These include eight seasons of 38 games — a full season.
Friedel holds the Premier League record for most consecutive games played with 310. It’s a feat he achieved during spells at Blackburn Rovers, Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspur; all clubs he’s revered at.
Friedel’s tenure with the former was the longest of his career. He joined Blackburn in 2000 after three seasons with Liverpool. There, he helped the club earn promotion to the Premier League in 2001, then backstopped the club to a League Cup in 2002. He’d go on to play for Blackburn in eight seasons, including seven in the Premier League, appearing in nearly 360 matches between 2000 and 2008.
A one-time PFA Premier League Team of the Year member, the American actually made his international debut back in 1992; three years before he signed his first professional contract. He kept a clean sheet in his debut, which came against border-rivals Canada. That same year, he also played for the United States in the 1992 Olympics, altough the USA failed to qualify out of the group stage.
Initially Tony Meola’s backup, Friedel made his World Cup debut in a loss to Yugoslavia in 1998, then assumed starting duties during the 2002 World Cup. There, he helped the States qualify to the quarter-finals; their best result in over 70 years. Friedel was considered to be one the USA’s top players; he became the first goalkeeper in World Cup history to save two penalties in a single tournament and he kept a clean sheet against Mexico in the round of 16.
Recognized as US Soccer’s Athlete of the Year in 2002, his 24 career international clean sheets are the fourth-most by an American goalkeeper.
4. Jorge Campos (Mexico, multiple clubs, 1988 – 2004)
Arguably the most iconic CONCACAF player of all time, Jorge Campos was a unique goalkeeper in every sense of the word.
For one, Campos initially made his professional debut as a striker. In 1988, Campos, then of Pumas UNAM, asked to be used as a striker because he had no chance at supplanting the club’s starting goalkeeper, Adolfo Rios. He ended up scoring 14 goals in his debut season and even contended for the Mexican first division’s top scorer award.
Campos would eventually adopt the club’s first choice goalkeeper position, but he never fully gave up his offensive ambitions. In a rare example of versatility, Campos continued to fancy himself as a striker throughout his 16-year career, and he would sometimes switch from goalkeeper to striker during a game if he saw his team struggling to score.
Campos’s most notable example of this feat came in a game for Atlante during the 1997 season. In that game — played against one of Campos’s former clubs, Cruz Azul — Campos started as a goalkeeper but switched to striker towards the latter stages of the match. The move worked, as the Mexican goalkeeper scored a bicycle kick.
At 5 ft 6, Campos was one of the shortest goalkeepers in the world during his playing days, but he was still able to tower over his compatriots at both the continental and international levels. The Mexican international, who’s 130 caps make him the most-capped goalkeeper in El Tri’s history, is a two-time CONCACAF Gold Cup champion. Campos also backstopped Mexico to glory at the 1999 Confederations Cup, defeating the likes of the United States and Brazil along the way.
In 1999, the IFFHS recognized Campos as North and Central America’s fourth best goalkeeper of the 20th century and one of the world’s top 50 goalkeepers.
3. Antonio Carbajal (Mexico, Club España / Club León, 1948 – 1966)
Only three players have ever played in five different World Cups. The first European to do so was Lothar Matthäus, who played in every World Cup between 1982 and 1998. And the last to do so was Rafael Márquez, who has played in every 21st century World Cup so far.
But the first was Antonio Carbajal.
Carbajal almost never became a footballer; he was banned from playing the sport in his youth. This was because his brother was killed by a car while playing football on Mexico’s streets, and his father, scarred by the loss of one son, could not bear to potentially lose another.
But the young Carbajal couldn’t give up the game he loved. Initially a forward, he made the switch to goalkeeper because it allowed him to see his father arriving from work, which gave him the opportunity to make his escape before being discovered.
Carbajal ended up making his professional debut as a teenager in 1948, the same year he represented Mexico at the Olympics. Two years later, he was invited to represent his country in the 1950 World Cup, hosted by Brazil.
This would be the start of a record-breaking journey for the man they called El Cinco Copas. Carbajal made 11 World Cup appearances between 1950 and his retirement in 1966, spread across five World Cup tournaments. These include his international debut against Brazil back in 1950.
Unfortunately, what hurts Carbajal is his uneventful club career. Carbajal represented just two clubs across his 18-year career; Club España and Club León. Carbajal spent more time with the latter; he made over 360 appearances for León across 16 seasons from 1950 to 1966.
Nonetheless, the IFFHS saw it fitting to recognize Carbajal as North and Central America’s top goalkeeper of the 20th century, giving him twice as many votes as the next best goalkeeper.
2. Tim Howard (USA, multiple clubs, 1997 – PRESENT)
Tim Howard first gained international attention in the summer of 2003 when he joined Manchested United as a 24-year-old. The club paid $4 million for his services in what was then considered to be the biggest transfer in Major League Soccer history.
Although Howard’s United stint didn’t go as planned — in three seasons with the club, Howard made 30 or more appearances in just his debut season — he did have his highs. Howard saved two penalties in the shootout to win the Community Shield on his United debut, and he was included in the Premier League’s 2003-04 Team of the Year.
Howard left his real mark on English football through his next stop, Everton. Initially just a loanee, Howard joined the Liverpool-based club on a permanent basis midway through the 2006-07 season. He then embarked on a 10-year Everton career that saw him make 414 appearances. Howard earned plenty of plaudits for his heorics between Everton’s sticks, and by the time he departed the club in 2016, Howard was considered by many to be the Premier League’s greatest-ever American player.
An American soccer legend, Howard made his international debut in a 2002 friendly against Ecuador. He’d go on to make 120 more appearances until his international retirement in 2017, becoming the USA’s all-time most-capped goalkeeper. With 62 wins, he’s also the nation’s all-time winningest goalkeeper.
Howard’s most famous win came against Spain, then the world’s number one-ranked team, in the 2009 Confederations Cup semi-final. Howard made eight saves in a 2-0 victory, sending the States to their first Confederations Cup final and ending Spain’s 35-game unbeaten streak. Howard was awarded the competition’s Golden Glove.
A two-time US Soccer Athlete of the Year and three-time CONCACAF Goalkeeper of Year, Howard holds the record for most saves in a World Cup match. He made 15 saves in America’s 2-1 loss to Belgium in the 2014 World Cup.
1. Keylor Navas (Costa Rica, multiple clubs, 2005 – PRESENT)
Forget about goalkeepers; an argument can be made that Keylor Navas is CONCACAF’s greatest ever footballer, even greater than the likes of Hugo Sánchez, Rafael Márquez and Dwight Yorke.
The Costa Rican is the only starting goalkeeper in Champions League history to win the European club competition three times in a row, having done so with Real Madrid in 2016, 2017 and 2018. He also won four Club World Cups, the most out of any goalkeeper.
Navas, who was the Champions League’s top goalkeeper for 2017-18, first gained international attention in 2013-14. The then-Levante goalkeeper singlehandedly kept Levante from being relegated that season. He was officially recognized as La Liga’s top goalkeeper for 2013-14.
At the international level, Navas may just be Costa Rica’s greatest ever player. Navas, who has earned 89 international caps, represented his country in some of the world’s biggest international tournaments, most notably the Gold Cup and the World Cup.
In the former, Navas helped Costa Rica finish as semi-finalists in 2009 and quarter-finalists in 2011. He was named the 2009 edition’s top goalkeeper.
Navas’s greatest international feat came in the World Cup though, specifically in the 2014 edition. With Costa Rica drawn in Group D alongside three former World Cup winners — Uruguay, Italy & England — it seemed impossible for the Ticos to escape their group.
But Navas had other ideas. He kept two clean sheets in the group stage, carrying Costa Rica to the top of the group. He then backstopped the Ticos to the quarter-finals via a Man of the Match performance against Greece in the round of 16.
Although Costa Rica were eventually eliminated by the Netherlands in the quarter-finals, Navas and his teammates were hailed as heroes. Navas, a three-time Man of the Match recipient at the tournament, eventually finished runner-up to Germany’s Manuel Neuer for the competition’s Golden Glove.
Do you agree with my list? Which other North/Central American goalkeepers do you think should’ve made the cut? Let me know in the comments below or through Twitter via @BlameTheKeeper.
9 thoughts on “The 50: Top 10 North & Central American goalkeepers of all time.”
7 Luis Gabelo Conejo
14.Pablo Larios Iwasaki
15 Brad Guzan
would like some mention about Haiti’s Henri Francillon.. but anyways I trust blindly all of your lists..
You’d have an argument with Bleacher Report which has Kasey Keller as the top US keeper of all time. Not even a mention here.
Hey James! Thanks for reading my piece. Actually, Kasey Keller is 7th on my list. He’s the third-highest U.S. goalkeeper on my list, behind only Tim Howard and Brad Friedel.