Who will be Nashville SC’s starting goalkeeper?

soccer players Matt Pickens and C.J. Cochran

Top: Matt Pickens saves a shot. | Bottom: C.J. Cochran shouts at his defense. / USL

When Nashville SC take on Atlanta United FC on Feb. 10, who will head coach Gary Smith start in goal? He could go with Matt Pickens, a 35-year-old soccer veteran with proven success, or choose C.J. Cochran, a 26-year-old with growing potential.

Luckily, Smith has coached both players in the past. Pickens played for Smith in Major League Soccer at the Colorado Rapids from 2009-2014. Cochran was Smith’s starting goalkeeper in the North American Soccer League for the Atlanta Silverbacks in 2015.

Pickens is a veteran with a winning pedigree

Matt Pickens

Matt Pickens

  • Date of birth: April 5, 1982
  • Place of birth: Washington, Missouri
  • Height: 6 ft 3 in

Pickens has the overall career experience one looks for in a goalkeeper. He’s achieved success at different levels of professional soccer, including a 2006 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup with the Chicago Fire and a 2010 MLS Cup with the Colorado Rapids. Pickens spent the last four seasons with the Tampa Bay Rowdies who moved from the North American Soccer League to the USL in 2017.

Smith will look to Pickens to set a professional standard for Nashville SC and by holding teammates accountable on and off the pitch. Smith called Pickens “one of the elite goalkeepers over the last 10 years in MLS.”

Pickens was the first player signed by Nashville SC, and is already the face of the franchise with his picture on billboards around Nashville promoting season ticket sales for the club.

Pickens’ Professional career

Years Team
2002-03 Chicago Fire Premier
2004 Virginia Beach Mariners (loan)
2004-07 Chicago Fire
2008 Queens Park Rangers
2009-14 Colorado Rapids
2014 New England Revolution
2014-17 Tampa Bay Rowdies
2018 Nashville SC

Cochran has shown glimpses of great goalkeeping

C.J. Cochran

C.J. Cochran

  • Date of birth: Sept. 17, 1991
  • Place of birth: Alpharetta, Georgia
  • Height: 6 ft 4 in
  • Twitter: @CarlJr7

Cochran is the young unknown, but showed promise at the end of last season between the sticks for Oklahoma City Energy. His 3 years of professional experience and 27 career appearances is a small sample size compared to Pickens’ career.

Cochran replaced OKC’s starting goalkeeper, Cody Laurendi, at the end of the season helping the Energy reach the USL Western Conference Finals. In his last seven games Cochran was rock solid, only allowing four goals and keeping three clean sheets.

Smith believes Cochran is one of the most improved goalkeepers in the USL, and has been impressed by his presence and bravery on the pitch.

Cochran’s Professional Career

Years Team
2015 Atlanta Silverbacks
2016-17 Oklahoma City Energy
2018 Nashville SC

How do Cochran and Pickens stack up against USL goalkeepers?

Player Mins Played Save % GAA Shots Saves Goals Clean Sheets
C.J. Cochran 921 75.9% 0.68 29 22 7 4
Matt Pickens 2804 67% 1.19 112 75 37 10

Cochran’s goals against average of 0.68 ranked second overall out of the 55 goalkeepers with at least 5 starts in the USL in 2017. His 75.9 save percentage ranked sixth overall.

Pickens’ played the fourth most minutes (2,804) out all goalkeepers in the USL in 2017. His goals against average of 1.19 ranked 18th overall and his 67 save percentage ranked 34th overall.

Compare this to Diego Restrepo who was named the 2017 USL Goalkeeper of the Year. Restrepo led the USL with 12 clean sheets for San Antonio FC. He finished the season with a 76.4 save percentage and averaged less than 1 goal per 90 minutes (0.81 goals against average).

2017 USL goalkeeping stats

The statistics are based on goalkeepers who made at least 5 starts in 2017:

  • Average save percentage: 68.2%.
  • Goals against average: 1.4
  • Highest save percentage: 88.9% (Matt Cardone – San Antonio FC)
  • Lowest save percentage: 42.3% (Marco Carducci – Rio Grande Valley FC Toros)
  • Lowest goals against average: 0.43 (Matt Cardone – San Antonio FC)
  • Highest goals against average: 2.50 (Marco Carducci – Rio Grande Valley FC Toros)
  • Most minutes played: 2,910 (Cody Mizell – Charlotte Independence)
  • Most shots faced: 155 (Mitch Hildebrandt – FC Cincinnati)
  • Most saves: 105 (Mitch Hildebrandt – FC Cincinnati)
  • Most goals conceded: 50 (Mitch Hildebrandt – FC Cincinnati)

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3 thoughts on “Who will be Nashville SC’s starting goalkeeper?

  1. I think I lean toward starting Pickens early in the season. His veteran stability will help the team develop defensive chemistry, and his MLS track record can help the team market itself to fans.


  2. Pingback: From the MLS to Music City: Analyzing Top-flight experience on Nashville SC’s roster | Golden Goal

  3. Pingback: Coaching staff “really pleased” with team four days into Nashville SC’s preseason | Golden Goal

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