MLS NEXT Pro Preview: 5 Goalkeepers to Watch in 2024

Keepers To Watch

A new crop of talented goalkeepers is gearing up for what could be their breakout campaign in 2024. Goalkeepers like Patrick Schulte, Damian Las, and Adam Beaudry have set the bar high in the past seasons, showcasing their skills and propelling their teams to success while advancing their development towards the first team.

As the new MLS NEXT Pro season approaches, let's examine five goalkeepers poised for a breakout campaign in 2024.

Stanislav Lapkes - Columbus Crew 2

Since the inaugural MLS NEXT Pro season, Columbus Crew 2 has consistently set the standard for on-field excellence and player development. They've successfully transitioned players to their first team, with Patrick Schulte, the 2022 MLS NEXT Pro Goalkeeper of the Year, making a significant impact for Columbus Crew in their 2023 MLS Cup winning campaign.

Stepping into the goalkeeping role for Crew 2 in 2024 is the promising 17-year-old Stanislav Lapkes, a talent who not only started every playoff game in 2023 for Crew 2 but also played a crucial role in helping the Capybaras secure their second consecutive MLS NEXT Pro Cup appearance. During the 2023 season, Lapkes showcased his prowess under goal by making 17 appearances, 53 saves, five clean sheets, and earning an outstanding 75% save percentage.

Lapkes' performances shouldn't come as a surprise to those that saw him during his time at the Columbus Crew Academy, where he played a pivotal role in helping the Under-17s team reach the 2022 MLS NEXT Cup final. His play earned him the title of Best Goalkeeper of the U-17 MLS NEXT Cup Playoffs, which led to the young goalkeeper to be selected to the 2022 MLS NEXT All-Star Game.

With many changes taking place over the offseason on the technical and player front, Lapkes will be expected to play a crucial role in maintaining stability between the goalposts for Columbus Crew 2 in 2024.

Paul Walters - FC Cincinnati 2

FCC2 is gearing up for a positive 2024 season following a challenging first couple of campaigns in MLS NEXT Pro. Leading the charge for FCC2 is Paul Walters, who is aiming to build on a promising 2023.

Walters delivered several standout performances in 2023, with one of the most noteworthy performances occurring in late August against NYCFC II in front of a raucous TQL Stadium.

Faced with elimination and needing a win, Walters stepped up for FCC2 with an impressive display, making seven saves, including a crucial denial of a penalty in the late stages of the game to preserve the lead.

"Man of the match for me. The guy was on top of it. If it wasn't for Paul (Walters), we could have been down 2-1 or 3-1 at halftime," said FCC2 head coach Tyrone Marshall after the game. "He has so much potential and upside. He makes big saves in the same way that Roman (Celentano, FC Cincinnati first-team goalkeeper) makes them. I think there's a big future ahead for him."

The former FC Cincinnati Academy goalkeeper has the club's and head coach's confidence in his ability to continue his development, making him an excellent asset for the first team in the future.

Zackory Campagnolo - Colorado Rapids 2

The 2023 season witnessed the meteoric rise of Colorado Rapids 2's goalkeeper Adam Beaudry in MLS NEXT Pro. Beaudry played a pivotal role in helping his team become one of the league's top contenders in 2023. Now that Beaudry has moved up to the Colorado first team in 2024, attention turns to the promising Academy goalkeeper Zackory Campagnolo, who is set to fill the crucial position under the posts for Erik Bushey's squad.

Having joined the Rapids Academy in August of 2023 from the Orlando City Academy, Campagnolo was integrated into the Rapids 2 team for the season's final games. The promising goalkeeper brings valuable national team experience, receiving call-ups to the U.S. U-15 and U-16 Men's Youth National Teams. Most recently, he was one of three goalkeepers called up to represent the USA’s 2023 FIFA U-17 World Cup squad, along with teammate his Adam Beaudry.

While Campagnolo has yet to make his debut in MLS NEXT Pro action, his skill set and national team background position him as a potential cornerstone for Rapids 2 in 2024.

Emi Ochoa - Earthquakes II

18-year-old Emmanuel “Emi” Ochoa will be one of the goalkeepers to watch this season after leading Earthquakes II to their first playoff win during last year’s MLS NEXT Pro Playoffs. The 6’2 goalkeeper from Salinas, California, started 20 games for Quakes II in 2023, securing five clean sheets and making 51 saves.

Ochoa’s performances and promise have caught the eye of the United States and Mexican federations, as both nations have called the young goalkeeper up for training camps and friendlies. Most recently, in early 2024, Ochoa accepted a call from the Mexican National Team U-20 team to participate in the Torneo del Sol tournament in Guadalajara, Mexico.

It remains to be seen what country Ochoa will decide to suit up for in the future. Still, with a high ceiling and years of experience at the professional level, the Quakes II goalkeeper is bound to improve with each outing.

Alan Rutkowski - New York Red Bulls II

New York Red Bulls II entered their first season in MLS NEXT Pro, looking to make some noise in a very competitive Eastern Conference. Under the guidance of Head Coach Ibrahim Sekagya, and with 2023 Goalkeeper of the Year finalist AJ Marcucci and 2023 MLS NEXT Pro Best XI midfielder Ibrahim Kasule playing pivotal roles, Red Bulls II were able to secure a postseason berth.

During the last stretch of the season, an untimely injury to AJ Marcucci paved the way for backup goalkeeper Alan Rutkowski to assume the starting role. In the face of this unexpected opportunity, Rutkowski demonstrated remarkable composure, leading the Red Bulls II through the last games of the regular season and into the 2023 MLS NEXT Pro Playoffs.

With AJ Marcucci moving up to the first team for the 2024 MLS season, all eyes are now on 17-year-old Rutkowski to solidify his status as the goalkeeper for Red Bulls II. Rutkowski will need to fend off a challenge from another promising goalkeeper, Aidan Stokes, from the Red Bulls Academy, leaving Ibrahim Sekagya to make some tough decisions ahead of the start of the season.