People are never sold on Brad Guzan's ability to be the number one.
After he filled in for Tim Howard at the 2009 Confederations Cup, Goal.com named him as one of the three losers in their "Winners and Losers" column. Despite winning the match 3-0 and advancing to the semifinals, Guzan was described as "shaky" and making "a number of questionable decisions."
Guzan led Aston Villa to the final of the 2009-2010 League Cup, a run that included a shootout victory over Sunderland in the fourth round. He saved four penalties (one in regulation and three in the shootout). His reward was being replaced by Brad Friedel for the final, a match Villa lost to Manchester United.
Since taking over the starting role at Villa in 2012, he's experienced Villa's slow descent, which culminated with relegation in May (although it had been assured long before that).
Villa's putrid season (three wins and seventeen points) capped off the most difficult year of Guzan's career. He made a few bad errors in the USMNT's disastrous showing at the 2015 Gold Cup and didn't put in an elite performance in the CONCACAF Cup.
To make matters worse, Tim Howard, the previous number one, returned to the national team and unleashed a maelstrom of debate as to whether Guzan should be replaced. Every goal scored by an opponent was turned into a discussion of whether the superhero version of Tim Howard that only exists in people's heads would have saved it if he was in goal.
Everyone, in every job, deals with the pressures of being replaced by someone younger. It's rare that someone has to worry about being replaced by younger and older generations, but that's the situation Guzan found himself in when Howard publicly announced that he would be returning to the national team.
Guzan, whether he lets it show or not, is under a tremendous amount of scrutiny. That's the nature of being a goalkeeper. You're only as good as your last game. You're supposed to save the ball every time and your mistakes always make the highlight reel. Your position in the lineup is always in jeopardy.
With his club situation likely to change and his number one spot with the national team slipping away, Guzan needed to have a huge Copa America.
And, of course, he has.
Against Paraguay and Ecuador, Guzan showed the poise, composure, and big save ability Americans expect from their goalkeeper. It's not enough to make the saves you should make. We're a goalkeeper nation. You have to dazzle with acrobatic stops on shots with a seemingly impossible to deny goal-bound trajectory. You have to deny the world's best attackers when outnumbered on a fast break. For the last two matches, he did that.
Now, another challenge looms large. Argentina -- the best team in the world with one of the best players of all time leading its attack -- is the U.S.' opponent in the Copa America semifinal. Guzan will again be tasked with elevating his team to a result it won't deserve when they're unmatched on a tactical and personnel level.
To make things more difficult, the U.S. won't be fielding its best starting lineup. Jermaine Jones, Alejandro Bedoya, and Bobby Wood are all suspended for the match.
And yet, we expect Guzan to perform at the highest level and live up to the legendary names that came before him.
"Tim Howard would have saved that."
"Remember when Brad Friedel stood on his head at the 2002 World Cup?"
"Kasey Keller single-handedly beat Brazil at the 1998 Gold Cup."
Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.
Argentina is going to have their opportunities, and, for all we know, it will take a superlative effort to even keep the final score close and avoid a five-, six-, or seven-goal differential.
Regardless of what happens against Argentina, Guzan's spot as the number one keeper through the 2018 World Cup seems assured. After a year of doubts and questions created by mediocre performances, he has settled into the role with a strong Copa America. He'll have shaky performances in the future and his position as the first-choice keeper will again be called into question, but for now the job is definitely his.