JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Brad Guzan has been in this position before.
A few times, too.
So sitting behind U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard and waiting patiently for a chance to play is nothing new for the 29-year-old Illinois native. But that doesn’t mean Guzan is content with his second-string spot on the U.S. national team.
“It’s not ideal, obviously, when you’re not playing,” Guzan said Thursday as the Americans continued preparations for their World Cup send-off series finale against Nigeria. “Everyone wants to play. It’s probably a little bit more of a difficult situation for a goalkeeper just because we know only one of us can play.
“It becomes a bit tricky, but at the same time, you always have to be prepared because you get judged on your performance. And if you get called into a game in the fifth minute or the 95th minute, you have to be ready to step in and do a job.”
Guzan has spent more than his fair share in someone’s shadow.
He was a backup for most of four seasons (2008-12) for Aston Villa in the English Premier League, a sometimes frustrating experience that often tested his perseverance. Still, he stayed positive while learning behind fellow American Brad Friedel.
He made one league appearance in his first three years with Villa. He experienced some success by leading Villa to the League Cup final against Manchester United in 2010 only to be replaced by Friedel in the final.
Guzan was loaned to Hull City the following year and played in the second-tier League Championship for three months before returning to Hull’s bench for the final month of the season. When Friedel left for Tottenham after the 2011 season, Guzan figured he would get a promotion.
It didn’t happen. Villa signed veteran keeper Shay Given.
Guzan remained a backup. He filled in capably when Given was sidelined a month by an injury, but once Given was healthy, Guzan returned to the bench. Frustrated, Guzan considered leaving Villa. He ultimately decided to stay, re-signing with the club and finally got the starting job.
It may have the best decision of his career.
“It’s always nice when you’re linked with other teams, but I’ve been very fortunate to be at a club like Aston Villa for so long,” said Guzan, whose latest contract keeps him there through 2017. “Not many players stick with one club for as long as I have. Granted, I didn’t play too much the first four years. But I feel like now is my time to give back to them.”
Guzan has since blossomed into one of the best netminders in the Premier League, starting nearly every game the last two seasons.
And he probably could start for a number of other World Cup teams.
But for the Americans, who consistently produce some of world’s top keepers, he’s behind Howard again.
“It goes both ways,” Guzan said. “He makes me a better goalkeeper and I like to think I make him better as well. Our training environment, the atmosphere we’ve created among our goalkeeping group, it’s been really good. We’re very competitive. We all want to play. At the end of the day, we all support each other. I think that’s important.
“So for me, it’s just a matter of playing to the best of ability. And if I can do that, I leave the rest up to the staff.”
Howard is a virtual lock to start the World Cup opener against Ghana on June 16. How much, or even if, Guzan plays in Brazil remains to be seen. But many believe this could be Howard’s final World Cup.
“We’ve talked and joked about it a few times,” Guzan said. “But I think he’ll cross that bridge when he gets there. I’m sure at some point, after the summer’s over, he’ll examine that more.”
Until then, Guzan will have to wait – something he’s gotten accustomed to by now.
“It’s huge to have that kind of depth,” U.S. defender Geoff Cameron said. “The guy (Guzan) plays in the Premier League every single week, he’s one of the main guys, was a star for Aston Villa this year. The guy’s got a lot of pedigree, and he’s there to push Tim every single day. They’re fighting for position and always pushing each other.”