U.S. men's national team starting goalkeeper Brad Guzan is off to Middlesbrough, signing a two-year deal with the newly promoted Premier League club after a free transfer and bringing an end to an eight-year stay at Aston Villa.
The 31-year-old Guzan endured a brutal season in 2015-16, with Aston Villa being relegated and Guzan himself being relegated to the bench. Villa's defense did him no favors, with the unit conceding a Premier League-worst two goals per game (76 goals in 38 league matches), yet he persevered to remain the USA's No. 1 option for Copa America, beating Tim Howard to the punch for the starting job under Jurgen Klinsmann.
"Over the last two years, he’s been very solid, very consistent with us …. I know him pretty well since five years. I know who he is. I know kind of strengths, weaknesses, all that stuff. Brad right now looks very confident, very balanced, and it seems like he left that year behind him,” Klinsmann said prior to Copa America.
Now, Guzan must leave that year at Villa and a fourth-place finish at Copa America behind him and take stock of his opportunity at a new club.
What does this move mean for his prospects going forward? Here are the pros and cons of Guzan's big change:
For starters, Guzan escapes the Aston Villa stench. There's nothing good about the club right now as it wades through some tough times, and spending another season there while in England's second division and not the guaranteed starter was never going to be a promising option.
So he's off to a new environment and a new challenge. For Guzan, who was locked in battles at Villa for the No. 1 job throughout his tenure there, he'll welcome the task.
“For me, my confidence, I don’t think it’s ever wavered,” Guzan told SI's Brian Straus prior to Copa America in regards to bouncing back from adversity. “I know I have confidence in myself. I know I can do the job. I’ve been over [in England]. I’ve been through a difficult season before. I’ve come back from mistakes that I’ve made and have performed well. That’s part of being a goalkeeper. You have to have thick skin, a short memory and you have to be able to dust yourself off and pick yourself back up again.”
Middlesbrough has been a busy player in the transfer market, luring the likes of Alvaro Negredo on loan for the season from Valencia, and shouldn't be a pushover as a newly promoted side. Boro, in theory, is a decent landing spot for Guzan, and it'll surely please Klinsmann that he's sticking it out abroad and in one of the world's best leagues instead of potentially coming back to MLS.
U.S. Soccer in 2016: USMNT and USWNT year in photos
Staying in the Premier League is a plus, but Guzan will have a constant fight on his hands for playing time. Victor Valdes, a Champions League, World Cup and European Championship winner with Barcelona and Spain, also joined Boro this summer, and he'll be playing for countryman Aitor Karanka. It's expected that Valdes is the incumbent, even though he has hardly played over the last two seasons.
And it's not just Valdes with whom Guzan will have to battle. 37-year-old Greek veteran Dimi Konstantopoulous, who helped steer Boro to the Premier League as the starter last season, remains with the club (for now), as does 27-year-old backup and Real Madrid product Tomas Mejias. This is a club with options at goalkeeper, not one looking to plug a hole with its latest signing.
With Tim Howard starting and regaining his regular rhythm with the Colorado Rapids and Ethan Horvath entrenched for another season as the starter for Molde, Guzan can't afford to spend large chunks of the season not playing without it having consequences internationally. World Cup qualifying resumes in September, the CONCACAF hexagonal begins in November and the road to Russia will develop quite quickly after that. Simply put: If he's not playing at Boro, Guzan can't expect to keep his No. 1 shirt with the U.S.. Moving to Boro is a calculated risk. He needed a change of scenery, badly, and he wouldn't have signed with the club without reassurances that he could at least contend to be the starter.
Will that risk pay off or backfire? Only time can tell.