News of Tim Howard’s back injury, unfortunate though it is for the longtime U.S. No. 1, should be nothing more than a little fender dent on the U.S. bus toward Brazil.
Brad Guzan will do fine.
The Aston Villa man has shown again and again this year that he can stand the test. Just because Villa is not competing for top spots in England – not ever threatening to sniff top-table glory this season – doesn’t mean there isn’t pressure aplenty at the Birmingham ground. In fact, the pressure around Villa Park is immense. Countless players and managers have spelled it out for me over the years: there is no pressure like the weight of a relegation fight.
And yet, Guzan delivers one outstanding performance after another, with no signs of slippage, no signs of cracked confidence due to Villa’s losing or to a goals against ledger that teeters somewhere between “brutal” and “unspeakable.” He was a game-changer once again Saturday as Villa prevailed in a huge “six-pointer” over Reading.
Further, Guzan’s international experience in the U.S. shirt may shade toward the limited side, but it’s hardly down at zero.
Guzan, 28, has appeared in five World Cup qualifiers (a 3-1-1 mark). In most of his matches the United States already had sufficient qualifier points in pocket, or they were matches where Bob Bradley’s team would win comfortably.
But there one was a biggie as the United States neared its ticket punch for World Cup 2010, although it was anything but across the finish line.
That was in 2009, during a contest in El Salvador. (And we all know how these Central American contests can prove uncomfortably tricky.) Tim Howard was serving a one-game suspension, so it was Guzan between the posts that night during a 2-2 draw at the Cuscatlán Stadium, San Salvador.
So, nothing that will happen in Denver on March 22 will faze the Illinois born-and-bred Guzan. Plus, there’s this:
The United States needs three points from these two matches (against Costa Rica in suburban Denver, then four nights later at Mexico.) The pressure will be on that match in Denver; the United States must emerge from DSG Park with a “W” and nothing else. From there?
If we’re honest, no one expects Jurgen Klinsmann’s side to win in Mexico – never mind that historic win in a friendly eight months ago. If they drag out a point out of Azteca Stadium, well, wonderful! If they manage to sneak away with a win, bust out the bubbly for three “bonus” points earned en route to Rio! But no one expects it.
But if the United States can carry the Denver night and scoop up all three points against Costa Rica in potentially chilly Colorado, you can stamp “Mission Accomplished” on this so called FIFA World Cup qualifier “double date.”
The United States, rebuilt back line and all, backstopped ably by Guzan, should be plenty to handle that task.