Well, Brad Guzan is finally here.
For a portion of the Atlanta United fan base, it means that Guzan and Alec Kann now must meet in the Thunderdome for a Bloodsport-style fight to the death (KUMITE! KUMITE! KUMITE!) to determine a starter.
The build up to Guzan’s entry into the team has been coupled with a near constant flame war between Five Stripes fans on Reddit, Twitter.com, that Facebook group and the Dirty South comment sections. I’m sure the comments on this article won’t be a safe haven from that.
The fire lost some of its fuel when Kann picked up a quad injury against Columbus. With the Decatur native out, Tata Martino and company didn’t have to wrestle with a lineup decision or any possible PR backlash that might come from playing one over the other. Guzan will start Friday against the team from Florida and no one that isn’t in Kyle Reynish’s immediate family will complain.
When Kann comes back though…
While the fan base seems to be reaching for each other’s throats, those around the team recognize the reality of having two keepers that can be relied on in almost any situation to block shots and inspire confidence in the back line; It’s not a bad thing.
“They’re both top goalies,” fullback Anton Walkes said. “They’re in there to do what they do and the best thing about it is they’ll give one hundred percent regardless.”
“Really what we have are two excellent goalkeepers,” Tata Martino said through a translator. “Unfortunately, the situation has made it so I don’t have to choose between the two. I say unfortunately because Alec is injured and it would have been great to have that kind of competition. “
Kann has been a surprise this year. I think anyone around the team would admit that off the record.
After making only 8 MLS starts before 2017, Kann has done enough in goal to keep an expansion side in the thick of a playoff race. He hasn’t been superhuman, but he’s done more than ever expected.
He’ll only get better with Guzan pushing him. Guzan will only get better with Kann pushing back.
“I think [Alec has] had a great start to the season,” Guzan said on Tuesday. “I think every goalkeeper is unique in their own way. I’ve been fortunate to work with some of the world’s best goalkeepers and from each one of those I try to take a little bit from their game and if I like it apply it to myself. Everybody has a unique style, as goalkeepers get older they tend to pick up different experiences, pick up different tips and pointers in how they go about their game and how they can continue to get better. For me, I’ll look to get better off of him and hopefully I can make him a better goalkeeper, and if we’re doing that the team is winning and that’s the most important thing.”
An Alec Kann-shaped cloud will hang over Guzan during his first trial run in goal. The only real certainty going forward is that he will be over-analyzed. Every save and every mistake will be dissected under a microscope and compared.
To fans he will be a sentient pros and cons list, but Guzan will take the field Friday having already gained the confidence of both his teammates and the front office. After just one day in training, any difficulties with adjusting to a new keeper are quickly melting away according to Anton Walkes.
“I believe we’re getting rid of [any issues] already. He’s a great player. He’s got loads of experience so he’ll know how to take care of himself. Coming in his experience will only help and boost our back line,” he said. “He’s a cracking person. He’s loud, he’s vocal. No doubt he’ll get along very well and he’ll be able to communicate whatever he needs during the game.”
Club President Darren Eales says that the immediate faith Walkes showed in Guzan is what makes the new keeper an invaluable asset to the team.
“It’s not just your raw ability, it’s the confidence your teammates feel in you – the defence in particular – and it’s your leadership skills. Those intangibles, that experience you have as goalkeeper when you get into your 30’s isn’t measured in the stats it’s measured in the comfort and security the team feels around him,” Eales said. “Those intangibles are something we really feel excited about with a player like Brad. To have his history and experience, that’s going to really help us on and off the pitch.”
There were times where Guzan struggled in England. But, there’s no doubt he instantly becomes one of the most experienced players on the squad (along with Jeff Larentowicz and All-Star Michael Parkhurst. No, seriously. He’s an All-Star. Look it up.) and brings even more confidence to a team that’s soaring into the second half of the season.
Guzan is away from a relegation battle for the first time in almost two years and newly inserted into a playoff race at club with an electric presence. A change of scenery from Middlesbrough to the Deep South means we may see a rejuvenated Brad Guzan in Atlanta
“When you’re in a relegation battle -- and I’ve been in a few over the last couple of years – mentally it takes a toll, physically it takes a toll. But when you take a new challenge, whether its MLS, another club in Europe or wherever, there’s excitement, there’s adrenaline, there’s all these little things that play into it,” he said. “You feel like a kid at school on the first day. And that’s the feeling I have. To have that feeling here, with the facilities we have and the team we have, it increases that feeling that much more.”
Atlanta United is in excellent hands going forward in goal and there’s no reason to think that the team will suffer a drop in form due to a change at keeper. Whether that change is a true upgrade remains to be seen, but, as the best website on the world wide web put it, we won’t know till we know.
What if...hear us out here...what if we just waited to see Guzan play for Atlanta United before judging him?— Dirty South Soccer (@DirtySouthSoc) July 16, 2017
Remember that competition is a good thing. Y’all will continue to fight among yourselves and that’s fine and part of the fun of following a team. If we all agree that Florida is an absolute tire fire of a state and their soccer team is equally, if not more trash, we’re doing all right.
Whoever is starting in goal though come September, be glad the one on the bench is there to make him better.