One of the men that has made up the USA’s great line of goalkeepers, current U-19 MNT head coach Brad Friedel turned 46 on May 18, 2017.
Friedel, who most memorably backstopped the USA to the Quarterfinals of the 2002 FIFA World Cup, spoke to ussoccer.com about returning to South Korea for the first time since that incredible run as he assists Tab Ramos with the U-20 MNT at the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup.
Watch his thoughts above and then take a photographic look at the three-time World Cup veteran's incredible career.
Born in Lakewood, Ohio, Friedel attended Bay High School and excelled at soccer, basketball and tennis. Recruited by Sigi Schmid to attend UCLA, Friedel was actually invited to walk on to the Bruins basketball team, but decided to focus solely on soccer.
Friedel went on to backstop the Bruins to the NCAA championship during his freshman year, earned first-team All-American honors during his sophomore and junior seasons and also won the Hermann Trophy following his junior year.
Seen as the top collegiate goalkeeping prospect in the country, Friedel began receiving calls to the U-23 Men’s National Team in 1991 and helped the side qualify for the following year’s Summer Olympics.
Part of an Olympic squad that featured fellow UCLA players Cobi Jones and Joe-Max Moore, as well as future MNT stalwarts Claudio Reyna and Alexi Lalas, Friedel helped the U.S. team to a respectable 1-1-1 record in Barcelona.
After returning from Spain, Friedel catapulted himself into the senior U.S. side, earning his first cap along with Jones and Moore in the MNT’s 2-0 victory at Canada on Sept. 3, 1992.
Soon after, the budding goalkeeper became a regular in Bora Milutinovic’s side, joining the MNT Residency Program based out of Mission Viejo as a backup to Tony Meola and even playing all three matches during the USA’s run at Copa America ’93 in Ecuador.
Just days after his 23rd birthday, Friedel was named to the final roster for the 1994 FIFA World Cup, where he served as an understudy to Meola as the USA won its first match in the tournament since 1950 and advanced from the group stage for the first time since 1930.
While he was finding a place with the MNT, the goalkeeper’s club situation was tumultuous. Without a fully professional league in the U.S., Friedel tried to gain a foothold with European clubs, but was denied work permits when he tried to sign for Nottingham Forest and again after originally inking a deal with Newcastle United. He eventually went on a short loan stint to Danish club Brøndby, but didn’t feature and was back with the MNT heading into Copa America ’95.
That summer is when a near-decade long contest between Friedel and Kasey Keller began. Originally involved with the MNT in the lead-up to the 1990 FIFA World Cup, Keller had only played once during the ’94 World Cup cycle but was back in the mix after strong seasons with English side Millwall. The two split the matches at Copa America ’95, and while Keller was the ‘keeper in historic U.S. wins against Chile and Argentina, Friedel backstopped the side to its Quarterfinal shootout victory against Mexico, saving two penalties as the U.S. advanced to its first Copa America Semifinal.
Following the tournament, Friedel made a surprise move to Turkish giants Galatasaray, where he would shine under Graeme Souness (remember that name!) for the first time.
Friedel led Gala to the Turkish Cup that season, before securing a move back Stateside to Columbus Crew for the inaugural M.L.S. campaign in the summer of 1996.
And after a year-long stay at The Horseshoe in Columbus, he finally secured a permanent move to England with Liverpool.
His competition with Keller continued at the National Team level as the pair split matches during qualifying for the 1998 FIFA World Cup. Friedel shined brightly down the stretch, appearing in the MNT’s historic 0-0 draw against Mexico in Azteca on Nov. 2, 1997 before backstopping Steve Sampson’s side to clinch qualification with a 3-0 win at Canada a week later.
Though he featured for the U.S. early in 1998, Keller’s heroic performance in the 1998 CONCACAF Gold Cup Semifinal win against Brazil gave him a leg up going into the World Cup. Again, Keller was the starter and Friedel the understudy. After the U.S. lost its first two matches in France ’98, Sampson handed Friedel his World Cup debut, where the U.S. dropped a narrow 1-0 result to Yugoslavia.
Back on Merseyside, Friedel never really locked down a regular place at Anfield, often playing second-fiddle to both David James and Sander Westervelt. Keller and Friedel dueled for the starting role, and Friedel continued to split games with his opposite number early in the 2002 cycle, before being named as one of the three overage players for the U.S. at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney.
Playing in his second Summer Games, Friedel was a rock in the back for the U.S. as Clive Charles’ side went on a tremendous run to the Semifinals before finishing fourth.
Soon after Friedel returned from Australia, he bid farewell to Anfield, instead heeding the call of Souness again by joining English First Division (now Championship) side Blackburn Rovers. While dropping down a division might have seemed like a step down, it ended up being the best thing that could have happened to the U.S. ‘keeper as he went on to lead Rovers to promotion to the Premiership. In their first season back in the top-flight, Friedel also help Rovers win the 2001-02 League Cup, which still stands as the club’s last major trophy.
Just like in 1997, Friedel ended up being the man in net when the U.S. clinched its berth to Korea/Japan with a 2-1 win against Jamaica on Oct. 7, 2001. Earning more consistent playing time at Blackburn than Keller was getting with Tottenham Hotspur, Friedel edged out his fellow netminder to become the starter at the 2002 FIFA World Cup, where he turned in career-defining performances.
Following the USA’s 3-2 tournament opening win against Portugal, Friedel stood tall in the MNT’s 1-1 draw with hosts Korea Republic. The veteran ‘keeper made seven stops, including a first half penalty kick save. The U.S. ended up grinding out a point with the World Cup hosts and Friedel was named Man of the Match.
The U.S. needed just a draw in the group finale against Poland to guarantee advancement, but fell flat in the match. However, Friedel did save another first-half penalty, making him the first player in World Cup history to save two spot kicks during the group stage. His six saves against Poland earned him U.S. Man of the Match honors once again, while Korea Republic’s 1-0 upset of Portugal helped Friedel and Co. on to a Round of 16 date with rivals Mexico.
With the U.S. executing a counterattacking style that absorbed heavy pressure, Friedel was heroic against El Trí, making another six stops to ensure Brian McBride and Landon Donovan’s strikes held up in a 2-0 victory. With the shutout, Friedel became the first U.S. goalkeeper to earn a clean sheet at the World Cup since the MNT’s historic 1-0 win against England in 1950.
A Michael Ballack header and no-call on a Torsten Frings handball saw the U.S. go out of the tournament when they fell 1-0 to Germany in the Quarterfinal.
With a desire to emphasize his club career, Friedel didn’t figure in the U.S. team in the months following the World Cup and earned his biggest individual award the following season when he was named to the England Professional Footballers’ Association’s Team of the Season for 2002-03.
In fact, Friedel suited up for the U.S. just once more, that appearance coming nearly two years after the World Cup when Arena’s side collected a 1-0 friendly win away to Poland – the USA’s first victory in Europe since 1998.
Citing the tough toll constant international travel was putting on his body, he announced his international retirement the following February, completing his National Team career with 82 caps, 27 career wins and 24 clean sheets.
The move would help him extend an impressive professional career. In total, he spent eight seasons with Blackburn before transferring to Aston Villa ahead of the 2008-09 campaign. There, he played every league game through three seasons for the Villans before moving to Tottenham Hotspur in 2011.
Most impressively, Friedel set an ironman record in the English Premier League, playing in a stunning 310 consecutive league matches for the three different clubs from 2004 to 2012. Relegated to a reserve role with Spurs, Friedel wound down his career at White Hart Lane before announcing his retirement from the game in 2015, just days before his 44th birthday.
Friedel stepped away from the playing field having amassed 668 professional matches and one goal, scored during Rovers’ 2003-04 season. Today, he’s the head coach of the U.S. U-19 MNT and is currently serving as an assistant coach to Tab Ramos with the U-20 MNT, returning to Korea for the first time since 2002 for the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup.
The U.S. opens the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup against Ecuador on Monday, May 22 (4 a.m. ET on FS1).