Guzan ready for new adventure in Premier League
By Pat Martin, MLS Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
American goalkeeper Brad Guzan has had a whirlwind past couple of weeks.
First, the 23-year-old's British work permit was approved on Aug. 1, completing his transfer from Major League Soccer's Chivas USA to Aston Villa of the English Premier League. Then, before he could join his new team, he was named to the United States Olympic roster as one of three over-age players on the team, which competed in Beijing, China this past week. Then, most recently, Guzan was named to the full U.S. national team's roster for a World Cup Qualifier on Wednesday at Guatemala.
Through it all Guzan has one goal, which is to "grow and get better as a player." Guzan and his new EPL club know the experiences gained in recent weeks are important steps in that process.
"[Aston Villa] has been extremely supportive of me going to the Olympics and being a part of that, and then being called in for the Guatemala game," Guzan said in an exclusive phone interview with sportsnetwork.com. "These games are important for players to be a part of, to be able to represent your country and for the experience. I think they understand that and they have been terrific at being pretty flexible with my past few weeks here.
"It's a big jump, but in saying that, I think I'm ready for it," Guzan said.
"It's a long year, it's a long season ahead of us. For a young player like myself to have the experiences that I have been able to have, and am going to have, playing with the national team, those games are important. Yes, I've missed some time. In saying that, it's not as if I'm sitting over here twiddling my thumbs. I'm picking up some valuable experience in different national team environments."
Guzan should finally join Villa - which defeated Manchester City 4-2 to open its EPL schedule on Sunday - soon after the Guatemala game, when he will fight for playing time in arguably the world's top soccer league.
"It's a big jump, but in saying that, I think I'm ready for it," Guzan said. "I'm ready for this new adventure that's hopefully going to help my career and help me as a player. It's going to be exciting. I know it's not all going to be easy going into the Premier League. It's one of the best leagues in the world, if not the best, with the best players in the world.
"I have spoken with the coaching staff a bit and, being a young goalkeeper in my first year in the Premiership, there are going to be some things that I'm going to need to learn and get used to. I think that was part of the reason why they signed a great veteran goalkeeper like Brad Friedel."
Guzan seems to be stepping into the perfect situation, with Friedel being an American goalkeeper at the tail end of his career who has had success at the highest levels, from the U.S. national team to his European career.
"I am looking forward to working with him day in and day out," Guzan said of Friedel. "To learn from his experiences as an international player and as a Premiership player [will be a huge benefit]. Everywhere he's played he's been successful, so to have him [as a mentor] and to be able to train with him everyday is going to be a huge benefit for me."
NEXT IN THE PIPELINE
Guzan is the latest in a pipeline of American goalkeepers who have played in the Premiership. Kasey Keller, Friedel and current U.S. national team No. 1 Tim Howard are a few that have starred for some of the top teams in the world.
"They have done great over there," Guzan said. "They have set the bar for young guys like myself. Hopefully I will be able to follow in their footsteps and be at least half as successful as they've been. They've just been absolutely outstanding over there. They've done a tremendous job of keeping that pipeline of American goalkeepers going and for them setting the bar so high, it has given guys like myself an opportunity."
WHAT A LONG, STRANGE TRIP IT'S BEEN
Guzan isn't so naive to think he's going to step right into the EPL and be a star. He knows there is a lot of work to be done first.
"Going in I'll have to make some adjustments but hopefully I can just grow and get better as a player."
That shouldn't be a problem for Guzan, who used his time in MLS to grow and has gotten exponentially better since he first stepped on the field as a professional in 2005.
When Chivas USA selected him with the second overall pick in the 2005 MLS SuperDraft, it obviously hoped it was getting an impact player. Guzan was projected to be a backup to veteran Martin Zuniga in the Mexican-owned club's inaugural season in the league. An injury to Zuniga forced Guzan to start and take his lumps his rookie season, when he went 4-22-6 with a 1.99 goals- against-average.
But Guzan improved greatly because of the work he had to do in his first professional season. In the two seasons after that, Guzan improved his goals- against-average to 1.46 in 2006, and 0.93 in 2007, when he won the MLS Goalkeeper of the Year award.
"I'm very thankful for the players and coaching staff that I've had for the past three-and-a-half years and for Chivas USA giving me the opportunity to fulfill my dream of being a professional," Guzan said. "Being my first professional club, I will always remember it.
"I'll always remember my experiences and my time there, especially those difficult times that first year. I think being able to overcome that first year was important, not only physically, but mentally as well for me. That has helped me become who I am today."
ONCE IN A LIFETIME EXPERIENCE
The Olympics obviously didn't go as the Americans had planned. After defeating Japan 1-0 in their first group match, the team had the Netherlands on the ropes. Up 2-1 in the closing minutes of a game that could clinch the team's spot in the knockout stage, the U.S. let up a stoppage time goal and had to settle for a draw. As a result, the team had to at least tie Nigeria in its last group match to advance. The U.S. lost that game, 2-1, ending its chances at an Olympic medal after three games.
"Obviously it was a a bit disappointing in terms of us not advancing," Guzan said. "But in the overall experience it was great to be a part of it. I think it was something that I'm always going to remember for the rest of my life, the other guys as well. It was an experience that not many people get to be a part of. To be able to have that and enjoy it was very important."
With the Olympics behind him, Guzan has shifted his focus to the World Cup qualifier on Wednesday at Guatemala. While he will probably be a backup to U.S. starter Tim Howard, Guzan is still happy to have another game so soon after the disappointment of the past two Olympic matches.
"I was talking with one of my buddies about it. I think it's a good thing for me to be able to turn and put my focus right away onto another game and put the last few [Olympics] games behind me," Guzan said. "You never want to have that sour taste in your mouth for long. It was a difficult run for us in the Olympics. I thought we played well, but talk is cheap."