The Big Kahlina
Let's get it out of the way: I believe Kahlina has been good this year. There have been a number of saves he's made that have either kept Charlotte in the game or in the lead. Two from just this past weekend come to mind.
The first is in the 61st minute with Charlotte up 2-1:
Then, in the 83rd minute, as New England was trying to claw their way back into the game and Charlotte was up 3-1, he saved this:
Both are good saves, but ones you expect your goalie to make. The first--and I think more difficult one--is from only 6 yards out, but is right at him. The second is a little farther out, at 10 yards, but is also right at him. They are definitely important saves, but ones a keeper at this level should be making.
After only 4 games, I don't see anything immediately worrying in Kahlina's numbers.
Let's look at where Kahlina is in some of the basic stats: Goals Allowed (GA); Goals allowed/90 (GA90); Shots on Target Against (SoTA); Saves; and Save Percentage (Save%). Small sample size warning applies to everything below.
*Note: I have taken this data from FBref, not MLS. The primary difference is that MLS has Kahlina's Save% at 69.6%. FBref's has his higher because they filter out penalty kicks. To me, this seems to be a more fair reflection of a goalkeeper's form since one expects PKs to be scored (default xG for them is 0.76).
Overall, this isn't too bad. Obviously the 7 goals conceded are not ideal, but when one considers that 3 of those are penalties; 2 are massive deflections (2nd goals in both the DC and Atlanta games); 1 is a deflected punch (3rd in the DC game), and 1 is a golazo (Galaxy game), it doesn't seem so bad. I think it's fair to say that luck has not been on Charlotte's side so far.
A lot has been made of the amount of shots Charlotte has faced and it's not insignificant. It's also not the worst in the league. Charlotte are tied with Real Salt Lake for 4th in the league with 20 shots on target against. It's a three-way tie at the top between DC United, Toronto, and Vancouver, who have all faced 24 SoTA. Kahlina's save percentage is obviously solid at 80%.
So, Kahlina appears to have gotten off to a solid, albeit unlucky, start. Do any of the advanced goalkeeping metrics paint a different picture? Let's take a look at a few:
Post-Shot Expected Goals (PSxG): expected goals based on how likely the goalkeeper is to save the shot. Important to note that xG totals include penalty kicks, but not penalty shootouts.
Post-Shot Expected Goals per Shot on Target (PSxG/SoT): the higher the number, the more difficult the shots were to stop and thus the more likely to score. The metric does not include penalty kicks.
Post-Shot Expected Goals minus Goals Allowed (PSxG+/-): A positive number suggests better luck or an above average ability to stop shots. This metric does not include penalty kicks.
**Note: Below I refer to these stats in relation to Kahlina specifically, but to other teams in general. This is because Kahlina has started all 4 of our games. Some teams have had multiple GKs already and it is just easier to refer to opposing teams as a whole.
The best news from this is that the PSxG+/- is positive. While it's a metric that can indicate luck, I think it's easy to argue that Charlotte--and Kahlina--have had bad luck in regards to goals. Again, 3 deflected goals and an absolute screamer make up all the non-penalty goals (I won't touch on the arguable validity of 2/3 penalties at this time either). At least for now, I'm leaning towards Kahlina's positive PSxG+/- being a function of ability rather than luck.
League-wide, Kahlina is 6th in PSxG+/-. Seattle tops the league with a +3.3. Fun fact: Stefan Cleveland accounts for ALL of this. In his one game, he had 8 shots on target, allowed only one goal, and had a PSxG of 4.3. Small sample size is in full effect.
In PSxG/SoT, which again measures the difficulty of shots faced, Kahlina is middle-ish of the pack, tied for 15th in the league. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as it can indicate that the defense is doing its job in preventing a ton of dangerous opportunities. This early into the season, it's just too soon to definitively state if it's good defense or poor opponent shot creation.
The top 5 in the league for PSxG/SoT are Inter Miami (0.47), Montreal (0.43), Dallas (0.41), Seattle (0.40), and New England (0.40). Not to harp on Seattle, but this has to be luck, right? 4th most difficult shots faced but first in PSxG+/-? I would expect severe regression soon.
One last--but important--point to make about PSxG (and therefore the other two derived from it): it does not account for goalkeeper positioning. Created by StatsBomb, which is where FBref pulls their data, here's what they had to say about the metric (emphasis added):
It is also important to note, that since we are interested in the goalkeeper’s performance above average, we do not include any information about the goalkeeper’s position in the PS xG model. We cannot include goalkeeper information, because goalkeeper’s who are typically positioned better than others will consistently have lower PS xG and their GSAA% will be deflated, despite the low PS xG value being a result of their quality positioning.
So what does this tell us about how we should interpret Kahlina's PSxG/SoT? We have two options: 1) Kahlina's positioning has been outstanding and impacted his PSxG/SoT or 2) he simply hasn't faced that many difficult shots.
To be honest, I don't think we can make an accurate conclusion at this point. Charlotte is 4 games into its inaugural season, has had 4 different starting lineups, and is still getting players healthy and incorporated into the squad. It's just too early to tell.
Goalkeeping is not just about shot stopping (although, I mean, that is like 80% of it...). A goalie's distribution is hugely important in the modern game. How has Kahlina's been? Spoiler: it's been good!
Kahlina is 6th in the league for pass completion on kicks longer than 40 yards at 46.8%. However, he's gone long more than those around him. Of the top 10 in the league, he has 7 more completions and 13 more attempts than the next closest teams. His long completions rank 2nd in the league at 36.
We know that the manager likes to play out from the back, but the team isn't all the way there yet. 43.7% of Kahlina's passes have been long (40+ yards), with an average of 37 yards. Both figures are basically middle of the pack in the league. The effort to play it short is there, though. Charlotte leads the league with 142 attempts by the keeper, so I would guess that Kahlina's average distance might start to come down sooner than later.
Crosses are my biggest concern with Kahlina and the area I think he, and the team, needs the most improvement with. Charlotte is 2nd in the league, having given up 48 total crosses. Kahlina has only stopped 3 and has a stop percentage of just 6.3% (tied for 19th in the league).
Let's go back to one of the deflected goals in the DC game. In the 64th minute, this happens:
I'm not in love with Kahlina's decision to go for the punch here. Moreover, his execution leaves a lot to be desired. Even if he doesn't hit his defender or the attacker right in front of him, he's pushing this ball back into the middle of the box. I'd really like to see a keeper go catch that ball. Nitpicking? Sure. But if as a fanbase we're trying to argue he's been one of the best keepers in the leagues, I think you have to. There's definitely bad luck involved in this goal, but it's bad luck that he contributes to.
This might have been a pointless exercise. I'm honestly not sure.
My eyes tell me Kahlina has been good and I don't see anything in the stats that jump out and scream I'm wrong. I think Charlotte has a really good shot stopper on their hands. Could he stand to be a bit more aggressive and assured on corners? I would argue, yes. I would also argue that this small issue doesn't detract much from a very promising start. I plan to revisit him in a couple months and I am hoping that the promising start has turned into many strong performances.