Aston Villa v Liverpool - Premier League

Brad Guzan’s heroics vital to Aston Villa — and to the USMNT


There are plenty of stories to be found in Aston Villa’s 3-1 victory over Arsenal on Saturday. One of the biggest, of course, is that of the way Anthony Taylor lost control of the match early on, leading to several questionable decisions and the unwarranted sending-off of Laurent Koscielny. There’s also the off-the-pitch drama, which centers on the lack of players brought in during the transfer window. A home loss to a club that finished 15th last season isn’t going to calm Arsenal supporters’ fears, particularly with the first leg of their Champions League qualifier coming up next week. Certainly many stories will be written about what went wrong during their opening match, and speculating on who might be brought in to help repair the damage.

There are also the stories to be written from the Villa perspective. Paul Lambert started off this transfer season with a bang, bringing in seven new players, but started just one of his fresh faces against Arsenal. Did the team’s experience playing together last season help them hang on for all three points? Or was it simply Lambert’s consistent emphasis on attacking play? But while the exuberance of this young Aston Villa side may be a joy to watch, it means that sometimes the biggest Villa flaw is overlooked: its haphazard defense.

Villa’s defense has been all over the map for the past couple seasons, and for much of the opening match it appeared as though nothing had changed. While his goal in the final minutes of the match may have made many label Antonio Luna’s league debut as “stunning,” it overshadowed his defensive capabilities at left-back. Ron Vlaar allowed himself to be pulled out of position, enabling Olivier Giroud to score the opening goal for Arsenal. Nathan Baker came off early with yet another head injury, being replaced by the inconsistent Ciaran Clark, who did little to dissuade Arsenal from threatening the goal.

But that’s where Aston Villa’s hero of last season, Brad Guzan, comes in. It’s difficult to remember now, but Guzan was not the starting goalkeeper when Villa kicked off last season. Instead, it was Shay Given between the sticks for the first two matches, during which he conceded a combined four goals to West Ham and Everton. That led to Guzan being given the gloves for the League Cup match against Tranmere Rovers and the rest, as they say, is history. Guzan started the remaining 36 league games, making 114 saves and being named Villa’s Player of the Year for the 2012-2013 season.

Despite Christian Benteke’s 23 goals last season, Guzan was also the top player for the fans, with the goalkeeper collecting the Supporters’ Player of the Year award as well. Although the Belgian’s goals undoubtedly helped Villa stay up last season, it was Guzan’s ability to keep the opposition’s out that was ultimately most important. His impressive heroics behind the shambolic Villa defense did not go unnoticed by Jurgen Klinsmann, either, and the American was rewarded with starts against Mexico and Costa Rica in World Cup Qualifying.

This season’s first match should further convince Klinsmann that Tim Howard cannot be the presumptive favorite between the sticks for the United States. Sure, Guzan did not keep a clean sheet, but neither did Howard for Everton — and clean sheets aren’t the only factor that caps should be based upon. Guzan put in an impressive performance against Arsenal today, particularly after Koscielny’s sending off. Arsenal may have been down a man but they were bent on scoring an equalizer, and multiple shots found their way through the Villa backline. It was only thanks to the heroics of Guzan — in particular one block which looked as though the keeper saved it with a particularly sensitive part of his anatomy — that Villa managed to stay in front.

It was Tim Howard that started the USMNT qualifier against Honduras in June, and Howard who played the friendly against Bosnia and Herzegovina last week. In between, Nick Rimando took the gloves during the Gold Cup. But it’s Guzan, who at almost 29 years old is reaching his goalkeeping prime, that should be the one in goal should the United States reach the 2014 World Cup. His command of the area, his distribution, and, most of all, his ability to mop up the mistakes of an incredibly shaky back line demonstrate his worth — both to country and to club.

LINEUPS: Tim Howard starts for USMNT against Costa Rica

SALVADOR, BRAZIL - JULY 01:  Tim Howard of the United States gestures during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Round of 16 match between Belgium and the United States at Arena Fonte Nova on July 1, 2014 in Salvador, Brazil.  (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)
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The United States takes on Costa Rica in a friendly tonight at Red Bull Arena, as the USMNT must put the Mexico match behind them and focus on the upcoming World Cup qualifiers.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage ]

The biggest inclusion in tonight’s starting XI is that of Tim Howard in goal, marking his return to the national side after taking a self-imposed sabbatical. It will be Howard’s first appearance for the USMNT since his legendary performance against Belgium in the 2014 World Cup.

Klinsmann has chosen to go with a 4-4-2 tonight, and Geoff Cameron remains the only starter in the back-line from the Mexico match. He’ll partner with Michael Orozco in the center of defense, with Brad Evans and Tim Ream on the outsides.

[ MORE: Fabian Johnson sent home from USMNT after fall-out with Klinsmann ]

In the midfield, Klinsmann has put some speed on the wings through the likes of DeAndre Yedlin and recent call-up Brek Shea. Danny Williams joins Jermaine Jones as the central midfielders.

Up top, Jozy Altidore will play alongside Gyasi Zardes, who returns to his more comfortable position as forward.

Cristiano Ronaldo wins record fourth European Golden Boot

MADRID, SPAIN - OCTOBER 13:  Real Madrid football player Cristiano Ronaldo poses with his four Golden Boot Awards as maximun goal scorer of European leagues at The Westin Palace Hotel on October 13, 2015 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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Cristiano Ronaldo has added another trophy to the collection, winning his fourth Golden Boot as Europe’s top scorer for the 2014-15 season.

The award accounts for goals in league play only, which means the Champions League and domestic tournaments are not included. In La Liga, Ronaldo scored 48 goals in 35 appearances.

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Ronaldo first won the award after the 2007-08 season with Manchester United, and has now added three more with Real Madrid in 2010-11, 2013-14, and 2014-15.

With his fourth win, Ronaldo moves ahead of Lionel Messi as the only player to win the award four times. Messi has won three, while eight players have won two.

Below is a post from Ronaldo’s Facebook page reflecting on the award:

What a special moment in my professional life!

Winning four Golden Boots is a privilege for me and I’ll keep challenging myself because I want to do better every time and I want to keep chasing for more records.

I have to thank everyone in Real Madrid that made this possible and we want to keep winning more titles and more trophies. Thank you everyone.

Ronaldo alone scored more goals in La Liga play last season than 14 clubs did, which shows how prolific his season was. The only player to score more than 48 league goals in a European season was Messi, who scored 50 in 2011-12.

[ EURO 2016: A look at the 20 teams that have qualified for France ]

While it was a successful year for Ronaldo personally, it was a very disappointing campaign for Real Madrid, who fired manager Carlo Ancelotti after finishing the season without a trophy.