Brad Guzan's Rise to Prominence at Aston Villa and His Future with the USMNT
At first glance, Villa's struggles last season and their long run without a clean sheet would indicate a problem in goal. But Villa's defensive woes are not the fault of the American goalkeeper, who is quietly blossoming into one of the most consistent stoppers in the Premier League.
Guzan was voted as the club's player of the year by both the club's supporters and his fellow players in 2012-13. After just a year as first-choice keeper, Guzan has gained the adoration of the fans and the respect of his peers.
His successful season saw the American rewarded with a new, four-year contract during the summer. However, Guzan hasn't always had an easy time finding his place at Villa Park.
While the presence of the experienced Friedel helped Guzan improve as a keeper, his playing time was severely limited during his first few years as a Villan. His starts were limited to cup ties and even when he impressed, most notably as the hero of a League Cup penalty shootout against Sunderland, he wasn't given a chance in the Premier League.
Guzan even found himself selected behind Friedel for the League Cup final that same year, showing O'Neil's lack of complete trust in him. The 2010-11 campaign under new manager Gerard Houllier did little to change this, as the Frenchman also preferred Friedel.
Alex McLeish's arrival at the club, coupled with Friedel's departure, might have raised Guzan's hopes for his future. Unfortunately for Guzan, McLeish moved quickly to bring in Shay Given as his new number one goalkeeper.
Although an injury to Given gave Guzan a run of games in the Premier League during the 2011-12 season, he was still not the manager's preferred keeper. Out of contract at the end of the season, Guzan looked set to move on from his disappointing spell with Villa.
Enter Paul Lambert. The Scottish manager admired Guzan and convinced him to return to the club, re-signing the American. While Given was selected for Villa's first couple of games in 2012-13, Guzan was handed a start for the team's third game of the season and has been the first-choice keeper ever since.
Guzan summarized his time at Villa Park in an interview with Aston Villa's official website this past summer:
It all started on day one for me when the work permit didn't come, I had to wait six months and then arrived at the club and didn't play as much as I would have liked for the first four years.
I had a taste of English football in the cups but up until last year, it was the first time I was able to play consistently and use those difficult periods and use that taste of not playing to really motivate me and push me to make sure once I had a taste I wasn't going to let go of it.
The improving Guzan demonstrated a wide array of goalkeeping skills last season that display his all-around talent between the sticks.
Guzan possesses excellent reflexes and is quite adept at making challenging or point-blank saves.
Additionally, Guzan is eager to start Villa's quick counterattack, either by punting the ball towards Christian Benteke or throwing it into the path of a midfielder in space.
His greatest talent, however, is his command of his penalty box. Guzan is an extremely positive keeper who snuffs out crosses and high balls with authority.
The American is decisive when he chooses to come and he rarely makes an error in catching or punching the ball.
This diverse set of skills has Guzan threatening to ascend from his role as the backup keeper to Everton's Tim Howard for the United States Men's National Team.
Between Guzan's successful season with Aston Villa and a short stint replacing the injured Howard for the USA, Howard is facing more competition for the first-choice spot than he ever has. Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl has theorized that Howard is feeling the pressure placed on him by Guzan.
As long as Guzan continues his run of good form Howard must play at the highest level as well. It would not at all be surprising to see Guzan, not Howard, playing in goal for the United States at the World Cup in Brazil next summer.
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