For the United States it has always been a struggle to produce players who could occupy prominent roles at clubs in the top European leagues. Yet there has long been one welcome exception to that difficulty. In comparison to the talent developed elsewhere on the field, the U.S. has for the past two decades always had a strong collection of goalkeepers to provide the last line of resistance on the field.
Since Tony Meola made the position his own in the early 1990s, the U.S. has been allowed to call upon the likes of Kasey Keller, Brad Friedel, Marcus Hahnemann and Tim Howard, all of whom had strong careers in Europe, notably in the English Premier League. The biggest problem regarding that area of the team for a succession of coaches was who they would have to leave on the sidelines. Now, though, current coach Jurgen Klinsmann faces potentially a much more concerning issue heading into this summer’s Concacaf Gold Cup.
With long-time first-choice Howard still on a self-imposed sabbatical until at least the fall, Brad Guzan has been the man entrusted with the gloves since last year’s World Cup. Guzan looked set to continue the line of established goalkeepers and has been the No. 1 at Premier League club Aston Villa for the past three seasons. However, less than two months ahead of the Gold Cup, that is no longer the case.
Following a calamitous mistake in a league game against Manchester City at the end of April, Guzan has been benched for Villa's last three matches by recently arrived manager Tim Sherwood. Rather than being substituted for an emerging star, he has been replaced by 39-year-old Shay Given, who had been solid in leading Villa to the FA Cup final. Reports now suggest that Guzan may have to look for a new club if he is to become a first-team regular once more.
In the short-term, Guzan’s club problems are highly unlikely to impact his international place. And that is part of the problem for the U.S. and Klinsmann -- there is no one banging down the door to become the country’s first-choice stopper. Nick Rimando is currently the next in line, but, while a solid performer, the Real Salt Lake man will be 36 by the time the Gold Cup kicks off in July. With Howard already at that age, there exists a vacuum of talent in the U.S. coming through in goal.
The two leading young candidates are currently DC United’s Bill Hamid and Chicago Fire’s Sean Johnson. Neither have yet established themselves at a high level, however, and Johnson’s main international experience to date came when making a woeful error to cost the U.S. a place in the last Olympics. Indeed, in recent matches Klinsmann has turned to Mexican-born William Yarbrough of Club Leon, suggesting he is not convinced by the youthful options at his disposal.
For the first time in two decades a sense of uncertainty surrounds the identity of the man who will mind the Yanks’ net. More than likely, Klinsmann will stick with Guzan, hoping that the 30-year-old shrugs off his problems at Aston Villa and reproduces the solid form he has often displayed for his country.