USA in safe hands with Guzan

Posted by Kevin Hughes

It says everything of the rising reputation of Brad Guzan that the loss of their No .1 goalkeeper is the least of the USA's current worries.

A year, maybe even six months ago, an injury to Tim Howard would have triggered major stress in the U.S. camp, but not anymore; Guzan has spent this season convincing that second choice isn't second best.

He's emerged from the shadows of the substitute's bench to take his chance and claim Villa's No. 1 spot -- over the next few days, starting against Costa Rica on Friday, he has the opportunity to do the same for the USA.

-- Carlisle: Guzan steps out of the shadows

Guzan has been a patient and capable deputy for club and country, but this is his breakthrough season. Having usurped Shay Given to become Villa's first choice -- nothing to do with fitness problems for Given and everything to do with sheer merit of his own ability -- Guzan is more than ready to step in for Howard and step up.

The 28-year-old has bided his time and now is his time; the World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica is his first in this competition since 2009. A tough trip to Mexico follows.

The next few days, and next two games, will be a test of Guzan's character and ability. This is a player, however, who has been dropped in at the deep end of a first Premier League campaign, in the midst of what has developed into a relegation fight for Villa, and stood up to the challenge. More than that, he has excelled. If Villa fans were polled right now on their Player of the Season, it would be a straight race between Guzan and striker Christian Benteke.

Guzan has gone about his business quietly and efficiently, with the minimum of fuss. That's largely down to the fact that, as far as I can assess, he's verging on an error-free season. Villa have conceded 52 goals in the 28 league games Guzan has played in, but I cannot recall any single one being down to a mistake by the American.

A solid, consistent, goalkeeper is easy to overlook. It's when he drops a clanger that he gets noticed.

Or when he makes a stunning save. And this is how the wider footballing world, those outside the Villa fans who have come to appreciate his quality, realised his talent. Against QPR last Saturday, Guzan made a save of such class, it alone did as much to establish his rising stardom as anything he has done before.

The header from QPR centre-back Chris Samba was from 10-12 yards out, and looping towards the top left corner of Guzan's goal; it looked in. It would have beaten most. But Guzan, with that characteristic acrobatic bounce of his, sprung up and across and flicked it away with his right hand.

That was the moment Brad Guzan made a definitive statement: his understudy days are over. Now he is a genuine No. 1, a starter. One of the first names on the sheet. The save was so good that a second, a minute later -- from Samba's fierce right foot strike -- looked mundane in comparison.

Judged in clean sheets alone (five), Guzan doesn't compare favourably with some of his PL peers. But that's not the fairest way to appraise his work, for Guzan has operated behind a relatively inexperienced defence and been worked pretty hard. He's on his toes for long periods of games, tested frequently.

Despite his scarcity of Premier League football until this current season, Guzan is, in fact, the most senior player of Villa's regular team at 28. He's had to show top-class concentration, leadership and authority, and has done that. He's been a strong vocal presence, and his competitive nature has come to the fore.

More than anything, the feeling exists that Guzan's personality has a certain steel to it: nothing fazes him, and there is a quiet, understated confidence in the way he conducts himself. These are the qualities that the U.s. will need as the team approaches what will be two fixtures that could define their 2014 World Cup destiny. It would be a surprise if Guzan drops his guard and disappoints.


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