Good Hands, Better Value
Stuuuuuu! Home, away, up five or down one, you can hear the Verde faithful’s call every time the ATXFC keeper makes a save or snags a cross out of the air. It’s no wonder such an iconic chant sprung from the goalkeeper position. At times last season, Stuver’s heroics were the only parts of the matches worth cheering about.
What’s wild to think about is that even coming off an inaugural season in which he often played the savior for Austin, he’s only gotten better in year two, and the stats prove it.
In addition to the on-field accolades, the impact on the community and the organization’s culture is incalculable — highlighted by the fact that the Austin keeper was the first MLS player ever nominated for ESPN’s Muhammad Ali humanitarian of the year award. To get an idea of just how much he means to the team and the city, check out this Twitter thread from We Are Austin TV. He certainly makes our Austin FC Mount Rushmore.
What’s especially remarkable about the legend of Brad Stuver is that it almost didn’t happen.
Brought in originally to back up Andrew Tarbell, Stuver came with eight years of MLS experience but very little time as a team’s number one option. Winning the job in the offseason before the inaugural season, Austin’s number one is now one of the league’s lowest paid starting keepers at just $175,000 base salary. What we’re getting out of him, however, is the league’s best PSxG+/-. PSxG-G, or post-shot expected goals minus goals, measures how often a keeper is getting scored on compared to what the model would expect. It’s likely the best statistical measure we have of a netminder’s pure shot-stopping ability and Brad Stuver is blowing the rest of the league out of the water. This season, Stuver has let in 6.6 less goals than StatsBomb’s xG model would indicate, 20% better than the next closest player and 5.9 greater than the average for keepers with over ten 90’s played.
It’s also worth mentioning that within Josh Wolff’s system of playing out of the back, Stuver is asked to do a lot more than many of the other keepers on this list. The stats back that up as well. League-wide, Austin FC keepers have played the 2nd most passes this season and have taken the 2nd most amount of defensive actions outside of their penalty area.
Another huge area of development for Stuver has been his command of the air. This season, the Verde’s keeper stopped 10% of crosses into the penalty area, good for 4th among keepers with over ten 90s played. Last season, that number was just 7.2% which put him in a fairly unremarkable 16th place.
Stuver is technically a free agent after this season with his contract expiring at the end of the year. The club does have an option to extend an additional year, but with the keeper’s productive first two seasons, this may be a situation in which both the financially prudent and personally right options are one and the same — pay the man!
Austin comes into this game with an opportunity to cement their undefeated season against the Eastern Conference. On paper, this looks like it would shape up as a battle against two strong sides with competing identities — one in Austin FC who prefer to control possession and the other in the NY Red Bulls who have one of the lowest possession stats in the league (44%) and who create chances in large part due to their incessant high press. Their approach this season can be summed up with two competing sets of stats: they lead the league in successful pressures while sitting dead last in pass completion and pass completion percentage.
This particular match, however, is likely going to look much different. Over the last few games, the Red Bulls have started to look vulnerable towards the end of matches with a season’s worth of chasing games starting to take its toll. Pair that with a U.S. Open Semi-Final matchup against Orlando on Wednesday and the fact that a majority of today’s game will take place under the near-100 degree Texas sun, and we anticipate we’ll see heavy rotation from the Eastern side.
How much the Red Bull’s staff trusts the younger, more inexperienced squad is going to determine what kind of game we see. The Red Bulls already have the 3rd most yellow cards for the season, a product of getting caught in tough situations once the press breaks. Asking the youngsters to stay disciplined in the press is a recipe for disaster.
What’s more likely is that we’ll see the opposition park the bus and hope to steal a result. The Red Bulls already give up the 3rd fewest goals against and the 4th fewest shots on target. This game has a 2021-Seattle-at-home vibe to it. Fortunately for the Verde faithful, this is a totally different team offensively than last year. This is a prime opportunity for three points and a necessity to keep pace with LAFC in the Supporter Shield.