Over the weekend, his manager called his handiwork "world class." On Friday, Brad Guzan could be in line to help his country get back on track for the World Cup.
Guzan, a 28-year-old goalkeeper who currently plays for Aston Villa in England's Premier League, is widely expected to start in goal for the United States men's national team this Friday in a CONCACAF World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica. It would be his first appearance for the U.S. in almost three years, but that's not necessarily something for American fans to worry about.
With regular No. 1 Tim Howard injured, Guzan (20 caps) represents the Americans' most-experienced option at goalkeeper.
With a must-win match approaching, coach Jurgen Klinsmann has said the U.S. has "total faith" in Guzan (via MLSSoccer.com). Based on Guzan's recent form with Aston Villa, that faith is not at all misplaced.
Since displacing Republic of Ireland international Shay Given as Villa's No. 1 earlier this season, Guzan has been building his reputation with strong performances in Villa's fight to avoid relegation. On Saturday, against fellow relegation strugglers Queens Park Rangers, Guzan made a string of stunning saves to keep Villa in touch with dominant QPR.
Villa won the match 3-2 and gained three valuable points for the relegation battle. Guzan, meanwhile, earned high praise from his boss.
"Some of his saves were outstanding. He’s really playing on top of his game at the moment," said Aston Villa's first-year manager, Paul Lambert, who called three of Guzan's saves "world class" (via the Birmingham Mail).
Guzan made his last appearance in World Cup qualifying almost exactly four years ago—March 28, 2009, at El Salvador (via Goal.com). Since then, no keeper besides Howard has played for the U.S. in a qualifying match.
With his big chance coming up, however, Guzan sounded both confident and humble.
"You never want to see one of your teammates get injured. You hope for a fast and speedy recovery," Guzan told ESPN FC. "Obviously Tim is a big player, not only as a goalkeeper, but someone who has been with the national team for quite some time now. It's disappointing, but in saying that, everyone has to step up, and if my name and number is called that's something I'll be ready for."
Despite his lack of recent playing time with the U.S., Guzan has experience in important matches. He holds a 3-1-1 record in qualifying and started in the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup group match against Egypt. The U.S. needed a 3-0 win in that match to advance to the knockout stage, and Guzan delivered a clean sheet (via USSoccer.com).
Friday's match will have even higher stakes. The U.S. lost 2-1 at Honduras in their opening match of the "hexagonal" final round of CONCACAF qualifying. Following Friday's home match against Costa Rica in Denver, the U.S. will travel to Mexico, where they have never won a qualifier.
Adding to the degree of difficulty is an inexperienced American defense, which has been hit by several injuries in recent weeks. The Americans are the only team in the final round currently without a point, but nine matches remain.
"There's no sugarcoating it: We need to go into Denver and get three points," said Guzan (via Sports Illustrated). "Then we go on to Mexico, where everyone knows it's a tough place to go. But we have to be confident in our ability and what we're about as a team and try to get a good result as well."
With Guzan showing strong form, the U.S. should have a strong foundation to build on Friday night.