By Jeff Crandall
Raising a family with three boys in the southwest Chicago suburb of Homer Glen, sports were at the epicenter of life in the Guzan household. Basketball, baseball and soccer took up much of the family’s time over the course of the week and when they weren’t running off to a game or practice, the Guzan used every bit of sunlight to get in one more goal, one more hit or one more shot in neighborhood pickup games with friends.
The youngest among three competitively charged boys, Brad Guzan often had to work his way into regular involvement in neighborhood games.
“He had to claw his way up into the hierarchy,” remembered Brad’s father Richard Guzan. “There were often times when there were raised voices and a little pushing and shoving, but a lot of it was clowning around.”
Developing that mentality to fight for his place would become a hallmark for Guzan, serving him well on his rise to the top for club and country.
Over the years Guzan excelled at both soccer and baseball and no matter which sport, because of his size, there were always claims that he was too old to be playing with whatever team he as on at the time. Growing older, Guzan was involved in travel and state teams in both sports and as time commitments with school became greater, he was forced to choose one sport to focus on.
“This one particular season, his baseball coach called Brad to the side and said, ‘Bradley, you’re not making it to baseball practice.’ Brad told him he’s got soccer practice. The coach said, ‘There was a time that he was going to have to make a decision: is it going to be baseball or soccer?’ Of course the baseball coach thought it was going to be baseball, and we all know it turned out to be soccer.”
Seeing his older brother play goalkeeper in high school, the idea of denying crosses and stopping goals piqued Guzan’s interest, but his size often saw coaches dictate that he played as an outfield player. Guzan began training on the side as a goalkeeper at 12 years old and did his best to maintain a high level, developing his skills there, hoping to make it his full-time position.
“Whether it was an older B team or whatever it may have been, I wanted to keep that part going in terms of being a goalkeeper one day,” said Guzan. “Eventually I started doing Olympic Development Program at the time as a goalkeeper. Long story short, I made it to the state team and the regional team, but I still wasn’t playing goalkeeper consistently with my club team. I was invited to ESP camp and did well there as a goalkeeper, and that’s when a lot of colleges started to ask, ‘Who is this guy? We’ve never seen him play before.’
“That’s because I wasn’t playing as a goalkeeper. I was playing as an outfield player.”
His skill as a goalkeeper led to interest from a number of big soccer schools, and being in Chicago, Guzan said he was tired of diving around on indoor soccer fields and concrete, opting to looking at schools that had warmer weather.
He made official visits to the University of Virginia and Cal Berkeley before deciding on the University of South Carolina. With a view towards becoming a professional, heading to Columbia in 2003 allowed Guzan ample playing time early on in his collegiate career.
Guzan was a standout for the Gamecocks, playing every minute of the school’s 38 matches during his freshman and sophomore years. Between collegiate seasons, he suited up for the Chicago Fire’s PDL side, playing along with future U.S. internationals Drew Moor and Chris Rolfe as the team advanced to the third round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and earned the league’s regular season championship in 2004.
Guzan with then Chivas USA head coach Thomas Rongen at the 2005 MLS Super Draft in Baltimore.
His play was enough to garner a contract offer from Major League Soccer after his sophomore year, but the desire from his mother Karen, a teacher, to make sure he finished college was strong.
“When the opportunity came to pursue his dream, as a dad I wanted to see him pursue that,” recalled an emotional Richard Guzan. “On the other hand, his mother being a school teacher and knowing the importance of an education, that was an extreme battle between a mom and her son. She wanted to be sure he had the education to carry him through life.”
Worried that he could finish school at South Carolina but not have the contract offer at the end of his four-year collegiate career, Karen and Brad brokered a deal that allowed him to pursue his professional career with the promise that he would eventually go back and finish his college courses.
The promise is long running. Guzan has completed coursework here and there over the years, but hasn’t yet attained his degree.
“The family joke is that he will graduate college with his godson, who is in eighth grade,” said Richard Guzan.
“At this point, I think I’ll push it back to graduate with my one-year-old son,” joked Brad.