SAN JOSE, Calif. -- When San Jose Earthquakes goalkeeper was named to the 2016 AT&T MLS All-Star Game 26-man roster back on July 17, a lot of league followers scratched their heads. Where was Real Salt Lake's sensation stopper Nick Rimando? Why not new Colorado Rapids 'keeper and U.S. international Tim Howard? How about last season's MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Luis Robles of the New York Red Bulls? After all, Bingham is playing for a team mired below the cut-off line to make the MLS Cup playoffs.
"First off, I wouldn't have selected him if I didn't think he deserved it," said MLS All-Star and Earthquakes head coach Dominic Kinnear. "I know there are some good goalkeepers in this league, and I am sure there are those that will say that there was some bias, but I do watch enough games to know he was deserving of being picked."
By one measure -- MLS games played -- Bingham actually ranks as the senior goalkeeper on the All-Star squad. Philadelphia Union 'keeper Andre Blake, who was voted onto the roster as part of the Fan XI, is in only his third year, having been drafted number one overall in 2014. The Jamaican national team starting goalkeeper has only 27 games of MLS experience to Bingham's 59. Petr Cech, the starting 'keeper for All-Star opponent Arsenal FC, by comparison, has logged almost 500 games for club, and over a hundred for country, since turning pro in 1999.
But Bingham himself is not concerned with the lack of minutes he or Blake have in experience. In fact, the Quakes starter for every game since the start of the 2015 season is ready for the challenge that the EPL giants will provide when the game kicks off Thursday night. The 26-year-old will likely be on the bench in favor of Blake to start the game, but he will certainly get his chance to play.
"It's going to be a lot of fun," said Bingham after Wednesday's All-Star training session, "and I am really looking forward to it and I am excited to see everyone out there."
Last season, Bingham matched a club record for shutouts in a season, recording 12 clean sheets for a team that failed to make the playoffs. In 2016, he has already earned two MLS Save of the Week honors, and his defensive efforts have kept the Earthquakes within sniffing distance of the top-six in the tough Western Conference. That his coach, Kinnear, say his worth and named him to the All-Star team was very well received by Bingham.
"I was definitely excited," said Bingham. "It is a very fun event and something everyone looks forward to. To be able to take part in it is awesome."
All week in training, he has faced the shooting prowess of the best attackers MLS has to offer, and he smiled when asked to describe the experience. After all, teammates like Didier Drogba, Sebastian Giovinco, Giovani dos Santos, and others have enjoyed sending their best at the Quakes 'keeper, and the chance to save shoots from such league luminaries is not lost on him.
"Training has been a good time," said Bingham. "We are out here joking around at times, but guys are ready. They kick the ball pretty hard sometimes, but it is always good to challenge yourself against the best players."
Since assuming the starting role in San Jose in 2015 following four years as a back-up to fan-favorite Jon Busch, Bingham has never looked back. A bit rocky at the start of last season, as his defenders grew used to his positioning and style of play, Bingham's play steady improved and he earned his first national team call-up and cap earlier this year as part of U.S. Soccer's January camp.
"Getting more games is going to make a difference in his development," said Tim Hanley, the Earthquakes goalkeeping coach. "He has grown a lot and progressed a lot since last year, and this year he has been really, really good. If he keeps working hard and doing the things he's doing, the sky's the limit for him."
Heady praise from Hanley, who has worked with prior MLS Goalkeepers of the Year Joe Cannon and Pat Onstad and says that Bingham has no ceiling if he is able to continue learning his craft. Simply speaking, Hanley recognizes the pure athletic talent Bingham possess, and he has been impressed to see him be such a great student of the game. Earning an MLS All-Star nod was not a surprise at all for Hanley, and he expressed how proud he was for him on the eve of the All-Star game.
"I'll tell you, I love it," said Hanley. "Having him being named an All-Star is an honor, but my goal for him goes beyond that. I want him to be a regular on the national team, to win MLS Cup."
He added that he was disappointed that Bingham didn't make the U.S. roster for the recently completed Copa America Centenario, but he believes the 'keeper has many honors and awards still to come. Might the first be an All-Star victory against Arsenal on Thursday? Bingham may not have the experience of a grizzled veteran, but he's still far away from where his talent should take him.