News broke out late January that Brad Guzan would be leaving Middlesbrough in the Premier League in the summer and moving to the MLS expansion side, Atlanta United. While this is a big move for Atlanta, it does present a little bit of an issue for the USMNT. With Guzan’s move, there are no American goalkeepers left playing in the English top flight. Nor in any of the first divisions of Germany, Spain, Italy, or France. This hasn’t happened since Kasey Keller joined Leicester City in 1996, two decades ago. With Guzan leaving, there won’t be any USMNT caliber left in Europe except for Ethan Horvath, who recently moved to Club Bruges in the Belgium first division, the Jupiler League. With this change in situation, we need to evaluate the talent of the American goalkeeping pool.
By my count, these are the players who could be in the running for the starting place this year or in the near future.
There are other players who have played for the USMNT but who don't appear to be in significant contention for the starting place. That includes Rimando, Robles, Cropper, and Yarbrough. But for the sake of time and relevance, I am limiting the discussion to that list of 5.
Guzan’s been with the USMNT for a long time, dutifully serving as the backup behind Tim Howard. After Howard took a sabbatical following the 2014 World Cup, the starting position has been Guzan’s. The past few years have been a little bit rough for Guzan. An excellent stop-shot, Guzan was arguably the most important player in keeping Aston Villa from being relegated in 2013-14 and 2014-15. However, Guzan lost form with Villa in the last season and left to join Middlesbrough for free after the Birmingham side were relegated. Life with Middlesbrough has not gone as well as the Chicagoan would have hoped. The club brought in the Spaniard, Victor Valdes, to play as the starting keeper, with Guzan relegated to the backup role once again.
Guzan’s time as the starter with the USMNT has similarly been mixed. While the USMNT struggled in the months following the World Cup, Guzan played quite well. However, during the 2015 Gold Cup, he made several prominent errors, specifically in the semifinal against Jamaica. While throwing a ball to a teammate, Guzan accidentally carried the ball just past the boundary of the penalty box. The ref blew for a hand ball and Jamaica scored on the freekick. The US lost and were knocked out of the tournament (Guzan won the award for best goalkeeper, to my astonishment.) After the Gold Cup and the return of Tim Howard, Klinsmann announced that Guzan would split time as the starter with Howard. Guzan was named the starter for the Copa America Centenario in 2016, where he performed admirably. However, the policy of rotating between Guzan and Howard was re-implemented, with Howard playing in the loss against Mexico, at least until he was forced off with injury.
With a new coach leading the USMNT, Guzan’s role is, again, in doubt. Guzan no longer has the prestige of playing in the Premier League. Nor does he have consistent playing time to justify his inclusion, at least not until he arrives in Atlanta in the summer. At 32, Guzan’s age needs to be considered. While it is true that goalkeepers peak and decline later than outfield players, 32 is still towards the older side of the spectrum. He cannot be considered a project with hopes of improving. He’s at the age where his career has hit the peak and will advance no further. At worst, we could start to see the decline from age. If Guzan’s not starting, serious questions need to be asked if it would simply be better to bring in someone who will be relevant after the 2018 World Cup. Of course, this is all a moot point if Arena decides Guzan’s clearly the best talent the US has at this point. But that question has been debated, and may very well continue to be debated going forward.
Tim Howard is a USMNT legend. He has the most caps for any goalkeeper in USMNT history. He’s played in 2 World Cups, setting a record for most saves in a single match in the loss against Belgium. However, at some point, the Secretary of Defense’s term must come to an end. Tim Howard is 37, approaching 38. He has seen a decline in form followed by a transfer to MLS and a long-term injury in the form of tear in his abductor muscle. At this point, if one were to ask if Howard were still the best goalkeeper for the US, the answer quite possibly could be “No”. Indeed, one could ask if Howard will even still be playing as a 39 year old by the time Russia 2018 rolls around. However, Howard is still the experienced veteran, the established name who can be depended on to marshal the defense into an impenetrable shield. If the USMNT needs results now, does that mean relying on Howard one more time to get through qualifying? Klinsmann seemed to at least consider it. We will have to see if Arena will be willing to try it, as well.
Now we come to the prospects. Ethan Horvath is one of the brightest talents in the American Goalkeeping pool. Horvath was at Molde starting from 2013 where he eventually made 39 appearances, serving as a brilliantly effective keeper in the Norwegian League. Those consistent and distinguished performances led to a January transfer to Club Bruges, the leading club in the Belgian league. At just 21, Horvath has both a lot of talent and a lot of potential. However, he is serving as the back up for Club Bruges starting keeper, Ludovic Butelle, and has yet to make a start. Horvath certainly has a bright future ahead of him. The question is whether he will rise and become the next American starlet at keeper, and how quickly that rise will happen. There’s an opportunity for him to make a big splash this year, but it depends on how he presents himself in camp.
Bill Hamid has been the Next Big Thing for over a half-decade. While he’s been spectacular at times with DC United, including a Goalkeeper of the Year award in 2014, Hamid has had trouble turning that club success into a big offer from a European club or international success. Mostly, this has been because of a string of injuries. Hamid can’t seem to stay healthy long enough to get time with the national team, earning just 2 senior caps in 5 years. In this very January Camp, Hamid came in and was forced to leave early due to an injury. At the age of 26, Hamid has a huge opportunity to take the USMNT starting spot and make it is own, along with a big-money move abroad. But to do that, he’ll need to be consistent and, above all, healthy.
At 27, David Bingham is not exactly a prospect. However, the supporter turned player has performed admirably with the San Jose Earthquakes, emerging as one of the clear standouts in MLS. With Howard and Guzan aging, Bingham has a chance to eventually take the head spot, depending on how Hamid and Horvath turn out. It’s an outside shot, but he’s got a chance.
What do you think? Who do you feel will take the starting goalkeeper spot this season? Was there anyone I missed? Talk about it in the comments below!