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Season Preview: The Goalkeepers

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Brazilian Don Draper finally got the corner office.

International Champions Cup 2017 - Tottenham Hotspur v AS Roma Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

After many, many, many, many, many years of living on a wing and a prayer at the back, Roma found themselves in an odd position last season, having three viable, starting-caliber keepers on the squad and/or under contract. Between Wojciech Szczęsny, Alisson Becker and Lukasz Skorupski, Roma had no shortage of options between the sticks for last season and beyond.

In many ways, it was the perfect set up: Woj, the best of the lot, gave Roma a steady hand while auditioning for the rest of Europe, leaving Alisson to cut his teeth in the Europa League, while Skorupski got valuable first team minutes with Empoli, honing his skills and raising his market value in the process.

But you know what they say, nothing gold can stay. Roma’s perfect troika of keepers was only meant to last one season; there was simply no way the club could accommodate three starting keepers with only one set of gloves. Woj’s departure to Juventus clears the waters a bit—the job is firmly in Alisson’s manly hands—but in his wake is left an awful mess.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at this season’s portieri.

The Starter: Alisson Becker

Age: 24

Nationality: Brazilian

Roma appearances: 15

International Champions Cup 2017 - AS Roma v Juventus Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The man we affectionately call the Brazilian Don Draper is a massive man facing a massive season. While it was fair to call his first season with Roma an apprenticeship, 15 matches isn’t really enough match time to get in a groove, much less progress as a player, and despite intermittent calls for a bigger role, Alisson remained firmly on the bench, watching and learning from Szczesny. As a result, 2015-2016 was pretty much a wash for Alisson, as he not only lacked Serie A minutes but saw his standing with the Selecao slip as well.

All of which is to say, Alisson should be as motivated as any player on this squad. While a €7.5 million transfer fee is a paltry sum in today’s market, it was a substantial investment to make in a young keeper with zero European experience on his resume last summer.

As such, Alisson has precious time to waste, particularly when you consider that Roma didn’t even attempt to sign Szczesny permanently this off season. Alisson has the stature, the aggression and the soft hands necessary to be a top keeper, but his distribution, timing and, let’s face it, fitness need to improve dramatically if he’s to strip us of all worry.

Any slip ups and this next man is ready, willing and capable of stealing his job...

The Wildcard: Lukasz Skorupski

Age: 26

Nationality: Polish

Roma Appearances: 15

International Champions Cup 2017 - Tottenham Hotspur v AS Roma Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

While it seems as though we’ve been prognosticating about Skorupski forever, he’s still just 26-years-old, barely housebroken by keeper standards, but throughout his entire Roma career (since 2013), he’s always been on the periphery. Posing no threat to Morgan De Sanctis upon his arrival, Skorupski sat quietly behind the veteran, quietly biding his time before the job became his.

Perhaps deemed too young and reckless, Roma opted for his countryman, Szczesny, ahead of the 2015-2016 season. While Woj was shaky in the early goings, he did well enough to oust Skorupski, who was, in turn, loaned to Empoli for the past two seasons.

And you want to talk about a productive loan spell, look no further. In two seasons with Empoli, Skorupski tallied 66 league starts and kept 19 clean sheets, including 10 this past season which was good enough for fifth place in Serie A. He may not be considered the best keeper in the league, but you’d be hard pressed to find one more athletic.

Skorupski cemented himself as a starting Serie A keeper during his two seasons in Empoli, raising his market value five-fold in the process, putting Roma in quite the pickle. While many of us are enamored by Alisson’s potential, who’s to say Skorupski is that far behind, if at all?

As of right now, he’s option B behind Becker, but with three weeks or so left in the transfer window, that could quickly change.

The Elder Statesman: Bogdan Lobont

Age: 39

Nationality: Romanian

Roma Appearances: 28

AS Roma v FC Internazionale Milano - Serie A Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

Now we’ve come to Bogdan Lobont, the tardigrade of Roma’s squad. Much like the eight legged micro-animal, Skorupski can survive temperatures as low as one degree kelvin, while gamma ray bursts and ionizing radiation are like gentle drops of rain on his back. Lobont has been with Roma since 2009, meaning he’s survived eight managerial changes, three different sporting directors and four club presidents/chairmans. The man is a survivor, full stop.

Yet in all that time he’s managed only 28 appearances, incredible. With all the Maarten Stekelenburgs and Mauro Goicoecheas to which we’ve been exposed, it’s hard to believe he didn’t sneak in there for a few weeks. Despite the lack of match minutes, Lobont has always been there, seldom if ever raising a word about his playing time; he’s been a consummate pro and it wouldn’t be shocking to see him carve out a career on the touchline after he finally hangs up his gloves.

Predictions

Given their investment in him and the minutes he’s played in Roma’s summer tour, the job is 100% Alisson’s. However, as we mentioned, despite that certainty, he can’t rest on his laurels; if he’s to become a top keeper, the path starts now. Despite all the upheaval that enveloped the club this summer, Roma is very much in a win-now mode. Edin Dzeko, Radja Nainggolan, Diego Perotti, Kostas Manolas, Kevin Strootman and Bruno Peres are all at or entering the prime of their careers; potential no longer matters, we need production.

With talent oozing at the seams, Roma can make some noise this season, but if Alisson shows the slightest bit of hesitation or regression, it’ll all come tumbling down. He looks the part, not it’s time for him to act it.