The last two World Cup qualifiers may have created a nice dilemma for U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann. Now he may have an enviable goalkeeper controversy.
Tim Howard was entrenched as the starter until he broke two bones in his back while playing for Everton of the English Premier League. That led to Klinsmann starting Brad Guzan against Costa Rica and Mexico in the last two matches, and the Chicago area product performed spectacularly.
The Costa Rica match was played in a Denver blizzard, but Guzan didn’t let a shot get past him as the U.S. took a 1-0 win on Friday. Four nights later he got another shutout in one of soccer’s most difficult venues for visiting teams, Mexico’s Estadio Azteca. The Mexico National Team is unbeaten there in its last 17 World Cup qualifying matches.
Just getting a standings point in Mexico was a big deal for the U.S., which is 0-13-2 in World Cup qualifiers in Mexico and 1-23-2 all-time in that country. Tuesday’s match was scoreless – Guzan’s second straight shutout in a pressure-packed game.
So now Guzan must be considered an option, whether Howard is healthy or not, when the CONCACAF qualifiers resume on June 7. That’s when the U.S. (1-1-1 and tied for second in the six-team competition with Costa Rica and Honduras) visits last-place Jamaica (0-1-2). The next home qualifier is four days later, against Panama (1-0-2) in Seattle.
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Guzan was born in Evergreen Park and played his youth soccer for the Chicago Magic and Providence Catholic High School, where he was a 2003 graduate. He also played two seasons with the Chicago Fire Reserves in the United Soccer League’s Premier Development League and two seasons at the University of South Carolina before turning professional in 2005.
Chivas USA made Guzan its second-round pick in the 2005 Major League Soccer SuperDraft and he was the 2007 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year before moving to England’s Aston Villa. Guzan initially played behind Brad Friedl there, but now it appears it’s his turn to shine.
Guzan’s play also impacts Sean Johnson, the Fire’s starting goalkeeper. He’s the No. 3 netminder for the U.S., behind Howard and Guzan. Johnson had two training stints with Everton, where he trained with Howard. Johnson and Nick Rimando, of MLS side Real Salt Lake, were both available to back up Guzan in the Costa Rica and Mexico matches.
Watching from afar, but still close to the U.S. goalkeeper scenario, is Bryan Morrison. He was Johnson’s coach at Central Florida and Guzan’s coach before that at South Carolina. Morrison left an assistant’s job at South Carolina to become the head coach at Central Florida, and Johnson was a freshman on his first team there. Morrison came to Chicago last July 21 when Aston Villa beat the Fire 1-0 in an international friendly at Toyota Park.
"Both of them are very humble kids, hard workers, committed to their trade," said Morrison. "They don’t want to lose. You want them to get their chance. Brad did well with his club team, and is now with the national team. Same with Sean. You watch with a keen eye."
Both left college early and made it as pros.
"You get so close to these kids. They’re like sons to me," said Morrison. "You want them to go to the real world and do well. It’s exciting to see them mature as men."
Johnson only watched at the World Cup qualifiers, but the only other Fire player involved in them helped his team to a win. Midfielder Joel Lindpere came on as a reserve for Estonia in a 3-0 loss at Holland on Friday and a 2-0 home win over Andorra on Tuesday.
Lindpere scored on a header in the 61st minute against Andorra – his 86th appearance for Estonia.
Some good news for the Fire
Alex, the Brazilian midfielder, appeared to be seriously injured in the waning moments of the Fire’s 4-1 home loss to Chivas USA on Sunday. He needed help to leave the field and was taken to the lockerroom on a stretcher.
[MORE: Fire still winless after loss to Chivas]
Prior to going down, Alex had played well in his first start, and he may not miss much action. The club now says he has a contusion on his right ankle and is listed questionable for the next MLS match, an April 7 meeting with the New York Red Bulls at Toyota Park.
Defender Arne Friedrich, who missed the first three matches with a hamstring injury, was expected back from a rehab stint in Germany on Wednesday, and will be evaluated by the Fire medical staff. Coach Frank Klopas hopes that Friedrich will be available against New York.
A busy break
MLS is off this weekend, following the world-wide World Cup qualifying matches, but the 0-3-1 Fire have been working hard. A reserve squad visited the Columbus Crew on Tuesday and lost 2-1. The rest of the squad should be available on Friday when Minnesota United FC of the North American Soccer League visits Bridgeview for a 10 a.m. friendly.
It’ll be the third straight year that the Fire takes on Minnesota, coached by Manny Lagos – a Fire player in 1998-99. Last March the Fire defeated Minnesota 3-1.
Klopas used only six first-team players in the first reserve match of the season at Columbus -- goalkeeper Paolo Tornaghi, defender Hunter Jumper, midfielders Brendan King, Yazeed Atouba and Corben Bone and striker Quincy Amarkiwa. The lineup was rounded out by three Fire Academy players and two trialists.
One of the trialists, Colin Rolfe, scored the lone Fire goal.