Brad Guzan has finally officially joined Atlanta United. It has been a long wait for the U.S. Men’s National Team goalkeeper and the team. After the transfer news hit in January and Middlesbrough refused to let him join the team before the end of the Premier League season, Guzan was called into the USMNT for the Gold Cup this summer. After six months, the veteran has begun practicing with the team and getting accustomed to his new teammates.
Guzan, President Darren Eales, Technical Director Carlos Bocanegra, and Manager Tata Martino all discussed the new addition ahead of the team’s match against Orlando on Friday.
Another Veteran Presence
At 32 years of age, the most recent player to join to Atlanta United has had a long career. Brad Guzan played at the University of South Carolina in college and was drafted by Chivas USA in 2005 amassing 79 appearances for the team. His career then took him to England in 2008 where he played for Aston Villa, Hull City and Middlesborough in the Premier League and Championship. Guzan’s experience has also included playing on the U.S. Men’s National Team. He earned his first cap in 2006 and since then has played in 57 games for the Stars and Stripes.
Team President Darren Eales talked about the value of Guzan’s soccer experience saying, “We’ve got a young core of a team that’s our young South American players, but we need that MLS experience, we need that know how and savvy in the locker room that can give that sort of composure when it’s needed.” Guzan’s poise in goal will be a welcome addition to the team and a needed one as schedule congestion and other challenges arise as the playoffs approach.
As Atlanta United looks to make the playoffs as an expansion team, and build on the consistency that has been lacking at times this season, Guzan will need to put his MLS knowledge to work down the stretch. Bocanegra added that along with Jeff Larentowicz and Michael Parkhurst, a veteran keeper will add a wealth of experience that will serve the team well, asserting that, “Brad has that MLS experience but Brad also has the experience of two World Cups, Confederation Cups, playing in the Olympics, so you bring a little bit different skill set as far as a leadership role and experiences he’s had as a player.”
Fit with Tata’s System
While Guzan is one of the top American goalkeepers, he will be tasked with playing out of the back in a system that focuses on possession. Asked if he was familiar with the kind of tactics that coach Tata Martino likes to deploy Guzan said, “I’ve had managers in the past that liked to do the same.” Perhaps more importantly, he didn’t hesitate in the confidence of his ball skills saying, “For me I’m comfortable with it.”
Guzan added that his play isn’t the only factor that will determine the team being successful playing that style noting that, “It’s not just down to the goal keeper, it’s down to the movement of the outfield players, it’s an understanding of the system and different movements.”
As far as that understanding, the learning curve for Guzan will be a sharp one. This is the first week he has been in practice with United. Coach Martino noted that Guzan had done some work evaluating video of their play but hasn’t taken the practice field yet. Despite this, Tata said, “Today was the first time we had him on the field doing anything tactical with the first team, but he was doing things very well.”
In the end, the goalkeeper’s real job is to keep the ball out of the net. In addition to the tactical qualities that Guzan brings to United, Carlos Bocanegra mentioned the technical goalkeeping skills that make him a valuable addition, noting “Something we liked about Brad was his presence on the field commanding his box, giving confidence to defenders, giving confidence to the team.”
In recent games, Atlanta United has taken a step forward in their ability to play out of the back, breakdown teams, and keep their opposition from scoring (with their first choice keeper at least). In both the Colorado Rapids and San Jose Earthquakes matches, building out of the back was a key to the team breaking through to score goals. As the season marches forward, a goalkeeper with the skills to spark the attack and hold teams from scoring will be instrumental to United maintaining consistent form.
Expectations and Thoughts about Atlanta
Joining a team mid-season is always difficult. Building new relationships with teammates, settling in a new city, and learning new tactics will be a test even for a veteran like Guzan. The netminder noted that he understands the challenge of fitting in with Atlanta United saying, “It’s my job to try to get up to par as quickly as possible and understand the guys around me and how they like to play and at the same time try and bring my experience and my quality as well.”
Part of the challenge of fitting in with Atlanta United is the high standard that the team has set in its expansion season. Guzan noted that the high quality that the team has established on and off the field added to his motivation for joining the team telling reporters, “This was something I wanted to be a part of. I wanted to be a part of this club and be a part of this project in terms of being an expansion team and really leaving a footprint on the league.”
Something Guzan is accustomed to is playing in important matches in front of huge and raucous crowds. He spoke glowingly of the atmosphere and support at United home games having watched the team on TV in addition to in person at the Colorado game saying, “I was able to witness it first hand and see the passion and the live atmosphere was great, it was unbelievable.” With one game left at Bobby Dodd and then United opening a new stadium in September, Guzan will have plenty of passion supporting him in Atlanta.