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Paes, For Better or Worse

FC Dallas has chosen its goalkeeper of the future – will they regret it?

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MLS: Minnesota United FC at FC Dallas Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday, FC Dallas exercised its permanent transfer option on Dutch starting GK Maarten Paes, giving him a contract guaranteed through the 2025 season with two option years thereafter.

The fee (reportedly $1.1 million), the contract length (longest on the team – see below), and the international slot FC Dallas will have to use in the medium term to keep him around all point to a high evaluation of his abilities by the front office. His salary is still TBA (note: per the MLSPA he was making ~$150k base salary this season), but I would be surprised given the above factors if he is not the highest-paid FCD GK ever (presently backup GK Jimmy Maurer), and by quite a margin.

Current FC Dallas contract situations.

Securing a young, starting-caliber GK is one of the greatest value-adds a club can achieve from a roster-building perspective. GKs peak later than any position, sustaining their top performance deep into their 30s on average – Paes, 24, will have barely reached his zenith by the end of his five-and-a-half-year deal. Barring injury, then, FC Dallas and its fans must think they have sorted one spot in the starting XI for the foreseeable future.

Is Paes the solution that we consider him to be, though?

Per FBref, he was on a shot-stopping hot streak early this season comparable to Jimmy Maurer’s down the stretch in 2020 that got him a fat new contract. Since the Red Bulls match, however, Paes has gone cold, conceding more goals than expected at a rate that matches Maurer’s streak in the disastrous late summer of 2021. On the whole, he’s been average, illustrated by his very average save percentage (70%). Is it worth it to pay as much as we suspect FCD is for “average”?

There are other aspects to goalkeeping of course. Things like passing (he’s the worst full-time GK in the league in terms of passes completed versus expectation per 100 passes, per ASA), box command (he’s average in the percent of opponent crosses that he collects, per Fbref), sweeping behind his backline (he makes an average number of defensive actions outside the penalty area, per FBref). Even shot-stopping isn’t only about stopping the shot – you also have to control where the rebound goes, if anywhere.

He’s average or worse at everything that is commonly quantified as an indicator of goalkeeping quality…well, everything except goals against. In that most basic and brutal of metrics, he’s top 5 in the league, allowing one goal per game. How? Paes faces the fewest shots on goal of any MLS starter: only about 2.9 per game, per FBref.

If you wanted to make the case that Paes stands out somehow, then, it would be on the basis of that ever-difficult-to-prove “he’s great at coordinating his defense”. It was Maurer’s big calling card when he was competing with Jesse Gonzalez for the job, and maybe FCD found someone who does it even better. He excels not by what he does, but by what he doesn’t have to do on account of his ability to help his defenders defend better.

If I sound skeptical, it’s because I am. I suspect FCD just locked itself into a half-decade of fine goalkeeping at a relatively high opportunity cost. You would go too far if you called it a cataclysmic move, but I certainly wouldn’t call it a move that pushes FCD forward.