We’re starting off our season in review by looking at how each member of Nashville SC’s squad performed in 2023. We’re starting with goalkeeper Joe Willis, who once again was a stalwart in goal for the Boys In Gold.
2023 Grade: A-
2023 by the numbers
Matches played: 37 (10th on Nashville SC)
Minutes played: 3,712 (fourth on Nashville SC)
Saves made: 109 (fourth in MLS)
Clean sheets: 10 (fifth in MLS)
PSxG-GA: +3.8 (seventh in MLS)
2023 in review
Willis was typically solid for Nashville. Consistently one of the more unheralded ‘keepers in MLS, he dealt well with a rotating center back corps in front of him to maintain his usual level in goal. While Nashville’s defense certainly limits the amount of high-quality chances he faced on a regular basis, he was more than adequate when called on.
Per post-shot expected goals minus goals allowed (a long-winded way of measuring goals saved), he kept almost four goals off the board for Nashville.
2023 was the first season he faced a real challenge to the starting job from Elliot Panicco, who used his Leagues Cup opportunity to launch a more substantial bid for the starting role, including nine starts across the season. By mid-September, though, Willis had firmly re-established himself as the starting option.
Nashville finished the 2023 season as the joint-best defense in MLS. From September through the end of the season, Willis didn’t allow more than a single goal per game.
All signs point to Willis maintaining his role in 2024. He’ll turn 36 mid-season, though, and will likely find himself in a battle with Panicco for the no. 1 role in preseason. He’s a known quantity for Nashville at this point, though, and with the defensive unit locked in, there’s no reason to expect his career-best stretch of form to drop off.
Moment of the season
Willis’s save to deny a dramatic bicycle-kick attempt from Columbus’s Cucho Hernández was certainly eye catching. It also launched a counter attack at the other end, resulting in a goal from Hany Mukhtar to clinch the win.