Throughout the 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifying cycle, ussoccer.com will be documenting the developing competition between the U.S. Men’s National Team’s goalkeeper pool. Read the first installment of the series here.
In naming his June World Cup Qualifying roster, U.S. MNT head coach Bruce Arena bolstered the goalkeeper contingent with the addition of veteran Brad Guzan and up-and-coming youngster Ethan Horvath along with Tim Howard and Nick Rimando in Denver.
Originally a part of the roster in March, Guzan had to make a judgment call and eventually withdrew from squad due to the impending birth of his second child, a decision he doesn’t regret in the least.
“My wife was expecting our second child, and being on the other side of the pond with not a lot of help it would have been very tough for her. In terms of timing and different things, it was important for me to be there for my wife and welcome our daughter into the world,” he told ussoccer.com.
Though somewhat familiar with Arena – the current MNT boss handed Guzan his first cap as a 21-year-old back in 2006 – Guzan had been looking forward to being a part of the gathering. Though home duty called, he admitted he kept close tabs on what was happening around the team during that camp.
“Whenever a new coach comes in, you want to be involved, you want to make a good first impression, but it was important for me to be there for my family,” he said. “It was always kind of one eye on the team and seeing how the games were going and obviously the results. The guys did a fantastic job to put us back on track and put the qualifying road back in a good position. It was a great two games.”
The U.S. picked up four points thanks to a 6-0 win against Honduras on March 24 and a 1-1 draw at Panama on March 28. That set the table for the June World Cup Qualifiers, where Guzan backed up Tim Howard during the MNT’s 2-0 win against Trinidad & Tobago on June 8, before being called on to mind the net in the USA’s much-anticipated visit to Estadio Azteca three days later.
While he wasn’t forced into making big saves, Guzan’s distribution and control of the penalty area contributed to a complete team performance as the USA walked out of Azteca with a 1-1 draw and a rare point on the road against Mexico.
- READ MORE: Brad Guzan Discusses Return to MNT Camp
Now with a new coach at the helm and critical matches still on the horizon, the competition for playing time remains intense.
“With goalkeepers there’s an understanding that only one of us is going to play,” Guzan said. “You understand that when you take up the position at whatever age, but when you come into a National Team environment you want to push the guys and everyone wants to play. I’ve been fortunate to be a part of this National Team for a few years now and I’ve been able to get some games and experience under my belt.
“Being able to work with someone like Tim has been good for me, and I’m able to push him just as much as he’s able to push me. That’s a good working environment. At the end of the day, you want to get the best out of the team and you need that to get the best out of each other. Whether it’s Tim, Nick, Ethan or whoever, I think we do that here. We have a good group. We like to laugh and joke, but at the same time when it’s time to work we get after it and get the job done.”
The camp also marked another return of sorts for Guzan. Having begun his career with Major League Soccer’s Chivas USA in 2005, the veteran moved to England with Aston Villa three years later. After eight seasons in Birmingham and another one with Middlesbrough, Guzan bid farewell to England last month and is set to begin playing with new M.L.S. side Atlanta United FC in July.
“It’s been a very proud achievement for me to be able to go over there and spend nine years in England, and to have that come to an end is a pretty big change. Both my kids were born there. My wife and myself enjoyed our time greatly and we’re going to miss it, but at the same time we’re excited to be coming back to Atlanta. I’ve been able to see the league grow so much in the nine years since I left. Obviously Chivas USA is no more, but to see the way the league has grown in terms of the quality and the popularity, it’s really exciting. Atlanta is doing great things and I’m excited to be a part of it."
At the other end of the USA’s goalkeeping spectrum is Horvath. The MNT’s top young goalkeeping prospect, the 21-year-old was involved in multiple camps during 2016 and made his first senior team appearance when he kept a clean sheet in the USA’s 2-0 friendly win at Cuba last October.
“It was a nice feeling to get my first cap,” Horvath said as he recalled the warm day in Havana. “It was special because it was my first cap, but also because it was a historic game in Cuba. It was really nice to get it and to play with the likes of Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, John Brooks, Geoff Cameron and Christian Pulisic.”
Like Guzan, Horvath returned to his first MNT camp since last November. His life significantly changed right afterwards, as he worked out a transfer from Norwegian side Molde to Belgian giants Club Brugge.
“It just so happened after the November camp that I had to change my flight to go meet my agent in Belgium. I was there for two or three days. I did my medical testing and signing and went back to Molde, cleaned the apartment, packed everything and came here for Christmas and was back in Belgium before the end of the year.”
“It’s a really big step for me. There were other teams that wanted to sign me, but I think Brugge was the best option for me to play right away as a young goalkeeper. The reason I left Molde wasn’t anything bad. It’s a great team, great town, great people, and great coaches, but I just felt I kind of hit a plateau in my career. I needed to have a new challenge, keep learning and develop my game.”
- READ MORE: Five Things to Know About Ethan Horvath
Walking into a Brugge side that was in contention for the Belgian league title, Horvath sat behind veteran Frenchman Ludovic Butelle for most of the second half of the season, but got his chance on May 5 when Brugge 3-1 win at Sporting Charleroi. From there, he played the final three matches of the season and looks poised to take over the starting job when the team reconvenes to get ready for UEFA Champions League qualifying next month.
“I’m happy that Brugge wanted me, and I think the move so far has been very successful. I played the last four games of the season and did well in them, so moving into next year I hope it shows something and I’ll be the No. 1 for the team.”
Brugge’s early start to the season precluded Horvath from gaining some potentially valuable minutes during this summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, but as World Cup Qualifying winds down he certainly has his eyes set on being part of the U.S. squad that plans on being in Russia next summer. While not at all easy, Horvath has a pretty simple plan for making sure he remains in the conversation for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
“First of all, whenever I get called in train well every day to show Bruce and the staff what I can do. In Brugge, with how I finished the season hopefully I will become the No. 1 for this upcoming season and end of July we have Champions League already. It’s all about going back to the club team and performing to the best of your abilities. If I do that, I‘ll have strong hope that I can be part of the World Cup team.”