Brad Guzan ready to secure U.S. starting role, Confederations Cup spot
IRVINE, Calif. -- Like coats of paint on a house, experience is something that gets applied to goalkeepers layer by layer. For those who survive long enough, the saves, the decisions and even the mistakes help provide a weatherproof exterior that ultimately leads to success.
So it has proved for United States international Brad Guzan. There was the brutal MLS baptism with Chivas USA when he got lit up. He survived what seemed an interminable stretch with Aston Villa when he seemed destined to be a perennial understudy. The same was true with the U.S. where Tim Howard was ensconced as the team's No. 1.
There have been considerable highs too. He recovered to establish himself with Chivas USA. He's now a mainstay with Villa and even overcame losing his starting position at the end of last season. And he has come through on some big occasions for the U.S., including the 0-0 tie against Mexico at the Azteca during World Cup qualifying that helped right the American ship, which had been listing badly only a week earlier.
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Of course, Mexico will be the opponent again this Saturday, with the CONCACAF Cup and a spot in the 2017 Confederations Cup at stake, and Guzan will try to reprise that performance at the Azteca. But when his earlier experience is brought up, he brushes off any comparisons.
"Yeah, [the 2013 match at the Azteca] was a good result for us, but we've played X-amount of games since then," he said. "For us it's all about looking forward to Saturday."
There are potential distractions to be sure. Tim Howard is back in the fold after his yearlong hiatus from international soccer, thus ratcheting up the competition for a starting spot. Landon Donovan, in an interview with ESPN FC, stated that in his preferred starting line-up, Howard would be in goal, not Guzan.
"Everyone is going to have their opinions," Guzan said. "For me, you just want to go out and play well. So for me, nothing changes on that aspect."
And the incessant chatter on social media and elsewhere about Saturday's match that is poised to become a full-throated roar?
"Listen, there's a lot of things being said on the outside. For us, we've got a strong enough group that's focused on Saturday. And that's what it's about for us.
"The stuff being said on the outside, it's not a big deal to us here on the inside of our camp. We're focused on Saturday."
It's been roughly a year now that Guzan has been the Americans' starting keeper, but he has been in the U.S. program long enough to be familiar to his teammates. His tendencies are well known for all involved.
"He's extremely athletic," U.S. defender Matt Besler said about Guzan. "He's extremely mobile.
"He's a very good shot stopper. He's a guy that gives you confidence behind you. His communication is very good as well. He's just a guy that for me, I'm very comfortable with behind me."
Given the fact that the heart of the U.S. defense is in a state of flux, that comfort will need to be directed both ways. Besler is a strong contender for one of the spots, but who will be on the right is anyone's guess.
Logic would dictate that Geoff Cameron will get the nod, given his consistent outings for Stoke City. But Ventura Alvarado and Michael Orozco are not only veterans of Liga MX, but both are "Klinsmann guys" that the U.S. manager has repeatedly praised over the years.
That puts a premium on the U.S. defenders showing some cohesion in how to blunt the attacks of El Tri.
"You want to eliminate any gaps and spaces for them to play," Guzan said. "We want to be strong, we want to be difficult to break down, and you do that by being compact and well organized and talking to the guys around you."
He later added, "We know there will be times in the game where they'll have a bit of possession, but it's our job to make sure that it's not causing us any danger."
If Mexico does manage to break through, it will then be up to Guzan to hold off El Tri once again and add another layer of experience to what has been a stellar career.
-- For Matt Besler, his absence from the national team fold earlier this summer did indeed make him appreciate his time with the U.S. even more. He also realized in part the torture of being a fan.
"It's almost harder watching from the outside than being a part of it because you want to be in with the guys, putting in the work, and being there for each other on the field," he said.
"I'm happy to be here, happy to be with the guys and happy to represent my country."
-- Out of the players on the current roster, Michael Bradley has the most career goals against Mexico. He scored both U.S. goals in a 2-0 victory in a World Cup qualifier back in 2009. He also scored in a 2-2 friendly draw that took place in April 2014.
-- CONCACAF has declared that Saturday's match at the Rose Bowl is a sellout, with over 90,000 fans expected to attend. Besler added that could make on-field communication problematic.
"I've never played at the Rose Bowl, so I don't know exactly what it's going to be like, and how loud its going to be. I know 90,000 people, but I'm not really sure how loud it is, so that's going to be something new for me.
"But any time in a loud stadium, you've just got to do everything you can. Sometimes you might not be able to communicate with a guy farther up the field, but it makes that much more important to communicate with the guys right next to you."
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.