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Brad Guzan’s heroics vital to Aston Villa — and to the USMNT

Aug 17, 2013, 6:45 PM EDT

Aston Villa v Liverpool - Premier League Getty Images

There are plenty of stories to be found in Aston Villa’s 3-1 victory over Arsenal on Saturday. One of the biggest, of course, is that of the way Anthony Taylor lost control of the match early on, leading to several questionable decisions and the unwarranted sending-off of Laurent Koscielny. There’s also the off-the-pitch drama, which centers on the lack of players brought in during the transfer window. A home loss to a club that finished 15th last season isn’t going to calm Arsenal supporters’ fears, particularly with the first leg of their Champions League qualifier coming up next week. Certainly many stories will be written about what went wrong during their opening match, and speculating on who might be brought in to help repair the damage.

There are also the stories to be written from the Villa perspective. Paul Lambert started off this transfer season with a bang, bringing in seven new players, but started just one of his fresh faces against Arsenal. Did the team’s experience playing together last season help them hang on for all three points? Or was it simply Lambert’s consistent emphasis on attacking play? But while the exuberance of this young Aston Villa side may be a joy to watch, it means that sometimes the biggest Villa flaw is overlooked: its haphazard defense.

Villa’s defense has been all over the map for the past couple seasons, and for much of the opening match it appeared as though nothing had changed. While his goal in the final minutes of the match may have made many label Antonio Luna’s league debut as “stunning,” it overshadowed his defensive capabilities at left-back. Ron Vlaar allowed himself to be pulled out of position, enabling Olivier Giroud to score the opening goal for Arsenal. Nathan Baker came off early with yet another head injury, being replaced by the inconsistent Ciaran Clark, who did little to dissuade Arsenal from threatening the goal.

But that’s where Aston Villa’s hero of last season, Brad Guzan, comes in. It’s difficult to remember now, but Guzan was not the starting goalkeeper when Villa kicked off last season. Instead, it was Shay Given between the sticks for the first two matches, during which he conceded a combined four goals to West Ham and Everton. That led to Guzan being given the gloves for the League Cup match against Tranmere Rovers and the rest, as they say, is history. Guzan started the remaining 36 league games, making 114 saves and being named Villa’s Player of the Year for the 2012-2013 season.

Despite Christian Benteke‘s 23 goals last season, Guzan was also the top player for the fans, with the goalkeeper collecting the Supporters’ Player of the Year award as well. Although the Belgian’s goals undoubtedly helped Villa stay up last season, it was Guzan’s ability to keep the opposition’s out that was ultimately most important. His impressive heroics behind the shambolic Villa defense did not go unnoticed by Jurgen Klinsmann, either, and the American was rewarded with starts against Mexico and Costa Rica in World Cup Qualifying.

This season’s first match should further convince Klinsmann that Tim Howard cannot be the presumptive favorite between the sticks for the United States. Sure, Guzan did not keep a clean sheet, but neither did Howard for Everton — and clean sheets aren’t the only factor that caps should be based upon. Guzan put in an impressive performance against Arsenal today, particularly after Koscielny’s sending off. Arsenal may have been down a man but they were bent on scoring an equalizer, and multiple shots found their way through the Villa backline. It was only thanks to the heroics of Guzan — in particular one block which looked as though the keeper saved it with a particularly sensitive part of his anatomy — that Villa managed to stay in front.

It was Tim Howard that started the USMNT qualifier against Honduras in June, and Howard who played the friendly against Bosnia and Herzegovina last week. In between, Nick Rimando took the gloves during the Gold Cup. But it’s Guzan, who at almost 29 years old is reaching his goalkeeping prime, that should be the one in goal should the United States reach the 2014 World Cup. His command of the area, his distribution, and, most of all, his ability to mop up the mistakes of an incredibly shaky back line demonstrate his worth — both to country and to club.

  1. Brian - Aug 17, 2013 at 9:53 PM

    Lots of people, mostly Arsenal fans, are complaining about that second yellow, but watch it in real time and it looks a lot like Koscielny took down Agbonlahor from behind in the box and didn’t affect the movement of the ball. It’s only in slo-motion with a different angle than the one the official had where it becomes clear that Kos made contact with the ball. It’s not as bad a call as Arsenal fans want it to be. In fact, it’s a perfectly reasonable one, and Arsenal fans would have been screaming for a penalty had the sides been reversed. They know it, and you guys should as well.

  2. ptibbitt - Aug 17, 2013 at 10:30 PM

    Umm so Klinsmann should relieve the best keeper in U.S. history because Guzman had a good game against Arsenal? Bizarre. Maybe the author forgot Tim kept 10 clean sheets with a less than first class defense at Everton last year…or perhaps his countless heroic moments in a U.S. jersey including in recent qualifiers? Odd conclusion for anyone that actually follows USMNT and Tim’s performance.

    • nikodmus - Aug 17, 2013 at 11:04 PM

      Key word in your post…”HISTORY”.

      No one doubts or disputes Tim Howard’s contributions to the USMNT, but the person who starts for the team in Brazil should be the keeper who is playing the best right now (at the time of the tournament). There is no room for sentiment when trying to win a world cup.

    • bellerophon30 - Aug 18, 2013 at 4:34 AM

      The best keeper in U.S. history? No, he’s not there yet. He’s still a half step behind Keller and Friedel as far as I’m concerned. And that shouldn’t matter anyway, as we need what’s best come next June. You might remember that Howard had one clean sheet in South Africa, and that was against an Algerian side that wasn’t the least bit trying to score goals. I’m not saying that he shouldn’t have been the starter then, but both Bradley and Jurgen seem to have fixated on Tim and Tim only as the keeper savant for the U.S.

      I’m not saying that whomever has the better season upcoming should get the starting spot, but I hope Guzan gets his chances in some upcoming USMNT games. And come Camp Cupcake, I hope they call in Steve Clark, the keeper based in Norway (a league that hasn’t hurt the standings of Mix Diskerud and Clarence Goodson in the past). The third spot should go to a young player……..sorry Nick Rimando, it’s nothing against you personally or professionally.

      • ptibbitt - Aug 18, 2013 at 8:56 AM

        Bradley and now Jurgen are fixated on Howard because unlike us who can sit and speculate at what might be, their jobs depend on winning. Both know Tim gives them the best chance to do so.

    • schmutzdeck - Aug 18, 2013 at 11:55 AM

      Best keeper in USMNT history?

      Yeah, if your history goes back only as far 2007.

      Freidel only recently dropped below Howard as a quality keeper
      And Keller was better.

      Howard is a very good keeper who is occasionally great and sometimes prone to horrible mistakes brought on, it seems, by a lapse in concentration. He is particulalry vulnerable to shots from distance and crosses.

      In 2010 he had a very uneven World Cup . If he had played his best the US would have gone further.

      The problem is he has had no competition for his US place since Keller left. With the emergence of Guzan and with Moyes leaving Everton you can see how he is responding to pressure at his club and country.

      Howard is likely to remain the US #1. He is an important presence and he has been playing about as well as he can recently. Guzan is a better EPL keeper right now but Howard has a much greater amount of international experience.

      As long as Timmy keeps his standard up JK will start him because that way, the US will have two top class keepers. But if he dropped Timmy, my suspicion is Howard would not react well to being benched and you will lose him as a top keeper. Brad on the other hand is used to being a back up.

      This of course assumes that both keepers keep up their current high standard.

  3. navyeoddavee9 - Aug 18, 2013 at 10:35 AM

    Howard 1, Guzan 1A, can’t go wrong with either, but for now, Howard has done nothing to loose the job.and I don’t think he will, between now and the World Cup, he’s 34, will be 35 World Cup time, still prime for a GK

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