It is All-Star selection week in the Major Soccer League, and at first glance the selection of the best goalkeeper in the Eastern Division looks like a muddled mess.
Kris Peat? Otto Orf?
Not exactly household names, but Peat of Wichita has the best goals-against average in the Eastern Division, while Cleveland's Orf and Kansas City's Mike Dowler are in a neck-in-neck race for second best.
But this is not a vote for statistics. Several of the top offensive players in the league say they vote for the goalkeeper who gives them the toughest time.
If that's the case, voting for the No. 1 goalkeeper in the East isn't as difficult as it may seem.
"Scott Manning always has a good performance," said Kansas City's Jan Goossens, the No. 1 point scorer in the East and fourth overall. "But after Manning, the second vote is up for grabs."
The All-Star ballots provide a list of names, and each player is to vote for two players at each position. No player can vote for his teammates. Ballots are due this Friday, and results of the voting for the Feb. 13 game in Kansas City will be released later this month.
Manning, in his 12th MSL season and his ninth with the Blast, has an 8-8 record with a 5.89 goals-against average. He missed the first eight games of the season, and now he'll miss more time because of a knee injury he sustained Friday in Wichita.
Although his injury could affect the All-Star voting, Manning was to receive recognition today as the Blast's Player of the Quarter, voted by media representatives who cover the Blast.
Manning's competition in the Eastern Division for the All-Star goalkeeper slot comes from several directions. That's not the case in the Western Division, where the goalkeeping vote should be one of the easiest. Tacoma's Chris Vaccaro (12-10, 4.58 GAA) and San Diego's Victor Nogueira (15-11, 4.78 GAA) are playing the iron man roles as both clubs battle for first place.
In the East, nothing is clear cut.
The Kansas City Comets may be in first place and have two of the better goalkeepers in Dowler (7-8, 5.60 GAA) and Jim Gorsek (9-3, 4.86), but those two share the games almost equally and threaten to split the vote.
In Cleveland, Orf (4-10, 5.20) has emerged because starter P.J. Johns missed a fair amount of time because of spinal meningitis. But Orf is playing for the worst team in the league, the 8-17 Crunch, and Johns is healthy again, with a 5-7 record and a 5.77 GAA.
"I think you have to consider the type of season the whole team is having and how the goalkeeper plays against you," said Dale Ervine, Wichita's leading scorer. "For me, it is Dowler and Manning. I don't know if Dowler has played the most games for Kansas City, but he has played well against us. Manning missed games early, but there is no doubt he is still one of the best in the league and deserves the vote."
Kansas City evidently agrees. The Comets returned their All-Star votes last Sunday, and Manning was named on 15 of the 17 ballots.
While Cleveland's Zoran Karic agrees ("Manning, for me, is No. 1. He is just great."), he disagrees on the second choice: "Gorsek is better than Dowler," he said.
Cleveland's Hector Marinaro, momentarily sidelined with a sprained ankle, says he does not vote by records or goals-against averages.
"Manning always does well," he said. "But my second vote, I think I'll have to go with Kris Peat. He has played unbelievable in three games against us. If Wichita hadn't had Peat, we would have won all three games against them so far."
As it was Wichita won two of them and Peat was the star both times.
In Baltimore, the Blast players cannot vote for Manning, which means their votes should add to the confusion.
Defender Joe Barger said he has "no idea" whom he'll vote for. Forward Domenic Mobilio says he measures other goalkeepers against Manning.
"Scott is so consistent and that's what I look for," Mobilio said. "You don't want to vote for someone who is hot one night and cold the next. Otto Orf has done well and I'd give the edge to him. Maybe [Wichita's] Ron Fearon would be my second choice."
Dale Mitchell will be looking for the keeper who has done the best against the Blast.
"If I had to pick right now -- Orf and Dowler or Gorsek," Mitchell said. "We've played a lot against Gorsek and he has played well. And I like Orf. He is good with his feet and against us he has made big saves."
Midfielder Billy Ronson, who believes a lot of players simply will vote for their friends, is a perfect example of how unsettled the voting is.
"The bottom line," Ronson continued, "is if someone gives you a hard time, you vote for them. That's the only fair way to do it."