When Atlanta United fans saw Brad Guzan repeatedly hitting the turf while yelling in pain in the 17th minute of the club’s 1-1 draw with NYCFC at Yankee Stadium, the same thought popped into everyone’s mind: Here we go again.
Guzan, of course, ultimately saw out the match. But Atlanta on Tuesday delivered some unwanted news: the 38-year-old had suffered a tear to the MCL in his left knee as a result of a dangerous collision with Gabriel Segal inside the scoring area, shelving him until at least late June or early July.
So what will be the impact of Guzan’s latest absence on Atlanta, who are currently 3rd on the Eastern Conference table with 14 points?
Good news, bad news
The good news is that Guzan’s latest injury isn’t season-ending: fans immediately feared the worst after his immediate reaction following the collision with Segal, considering his Achilles injury nearly 1 year ago. That said, he carried on, even as Atlanta were ultimately reduced to 10 men in the 2nd and took the lead through Giorgos Giakoumakis before it was quickly cancelled out by Gabriel Pereira’s brilliant strike.
The bad news is that Atlanta will be without its captain and emotional leader for an extended period of time for the second year in a row. As we saw in 2022, that left a massive void in leadership (and experience) between the sticks for the Five Stripes as they were forced to use three other keepers: Bobby Shuttleworth, Rocco Rios Novo, and Raul Gudiño. Even though Guzan won’t be lost for the entire year, that’s still nearly 3 months’ worth of matches without him as we get into the meat of the season.
A look at the next 10-12 weeks of the schedule
So which games will Guzan miss, exactly? A timeline of 10 weeks will see him return the week of June 20, while 12 weeks will see him back by July 4 or thereabouts. Here’s the breakdown, which works out to a maximum of 14 MLS matches without him. That’s not counting the U.S. Open Cup:
Matches during Guzan’s projected absence
|4/15||at Toronto FC|
|4/23||Chicago Fire FC|
|4/26||Memphis 901 (U.S. Open Cup)|
|4/29||at Nashville SC|
|5/6||at Inter Miami CF|
|5/9 or 5/10||Tentative USOC 4th Round match|
|5/20||at Chicago Fire FC|
|5/23 or 5/24||Tentative USOC Round of 16 match|
|5/27||at Orlando City|
|5/31||New England Revolution|
|6/6 or 6/7||Tentative USOC quarterfinal|
|6/24||at Red Bulls|
Atlanta are in a much better situation at GK than it was last year
Those offseason signings came in handy for Atlanta, as it turns out. While it would have preferred to not have had to lean on either Quentin Westberg or Clément Diop for an extended period of time, bringing a pair of MLS veterans was an insurance policy designed to cover the club for a situation like the one it’s in right now. Westberg, who’s emerged as the backup, spent 4 years at Toronto FC before signing for Atlanta in the offseason. Diop’s been around MLS a little bit longer, coming over from France in 2015 with the LA Galaxy before heading to CF Montréal, Inter Miami, and the New England Revolution before joining Atlanta. While Atlanta signed Shuttleworth in 2022 to serve as Guzan’s backup, he ultimately lost his job to Rocco Rios Novo, who was supplanted by Gudiño. But with Westberg and Diop in the fold this time around, Atlanta have 2 starting-quality MLS keepers who, at worst, should be marginally better than at least 2 of the 3 options I’ve just mentioned.
What is Atlanta’s future at the goalkeeper position?
As mentioned, Guzan is 38 (turning 39 in September) and is in the twilight of his career. There’s no doubt what he’s meant to this club since arriving in 2017 after his nearly decade-long spell in the Premier League, including being one of the central figures during its MLS Cup run in 2018. That said, Father Time is calling: despite being under contract through 2025, Guzan’s now dealing with a second major injury in as many years. Considering his competitive and (at times) brash personality, he’ll probably tell you that he’s both willing and able to see that contract out before calling it quits, but this latest injury calls into question whether that actually will happen. There’s certainly a world that sees Atlanta with a new No. 1 goalkeeper in 2024 whether Guzan retires or if the club ultimately opts to cut bait. How quickly he regains his form upon his return will speak volumes about what his personal mindset around the final 2 years of his contract will be.
As far as Atlanta’s pipeline is concerned, there’s Chile youth international and academy product Vicente Reyes, who started for the 2s on Saturday. But Homegrown Player Justin Garces, who’s recovering from an ACL, is likely the future of the GK position and it’s probably a matter of when, not if he’ll eventually get his chance at first-team minutes.
In short, even though it’s not as severe as his Achilles injury, all the best to Guzan as he recovers from this latest setback.