- Veteran U.S. goalkeeper Brad Guzan has MLS Cup hopes while he plays for a club whose manager is departing and a national team that is set to make its long-awaited hire.
Brad Guzan finds himself in a unique position these days. His MLS team, Atlanta United, is a result away from not just reaching MLS Cup, but hosting it.
He's also playing for one manager, Atlanta's Tata Martino, who is leaving the club at season's end. And internationally, he's returned to a U.S. men's national team whose announcement regarding its new manager appears to be imminent. For a 34-year-old who has seen plenty throughout his career, these are intriguing times.
Nothing, of course, is guaranteed regarding Atlanta's MLS Cup hopes. But confidence is high for the two-year-old club after a 3-0 win over the New York Red Bulls in the first leg of the Eastern Conference finals, and a return to Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the chance to host the title match in front of over 70,000 supporters now seems extremely plausible.
In many ways, given Martino’s imminent departure at the end of season and the swirling transfer reports regarding key players such as Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez, this may seem as a win-now situation, though Guzan downplays the potential departures of key personnel having an impact on the club’s philosophy.
“Regardless of the situation around Tata or certain players, whenever you step on the field, you want to win,” Guzan told SI.com. “So for us, nothing changes in that aspect. This has been our goal since the beginning of the season, and we’ve wanted to be in this position since preseason. Nothing changes from that perspective.”
Guzan can’t deny that Martino’s exit is big, though, and the goalkeeper has only but good things to say about the Argentine manager, who cultivated and instilled the club’s personality and identity.
“To have someone like him, to have his experience, to see what he’s done with Atlanta United, it’s been a pleasure to have been a part of it and to witness it first-hand and to really see how he sees the game.”
When asked whether Martino should have been considered for the U.S men’s national team job–Martino himself says he was never approached by U.S. Soccer–the easy-going Guzan remains diplomatic but firm on how much his manager’s philosophies would have been a good fit.
“All I can speak of is based on the experience I have had in Atlanta … what we work in training, gets put into games on a weekly basis, we (U.S.) don’t vary too far from those ideas," Guzan said. "To have him here from day one at Atlanta United, it’s been great for us as a club, and for players.”
In terms of his ability to speak English, which USMNT general manager Earnie Stewart has said is a prerequisite for any incoming coach, Guzan never saw this as an issue at the club level.
“He’s always able to get his point across," Guzan said. "And I think more so than language, football is a world game, and I think when speaking the language of football, you’re able to understand what managers want and what players want, so that was never an issue.”
Despite only knowing him competitively as an MLS adversary, Guzan also thinks highly of the widespread favorite to become the U.S. manager, the Columbus Crew’s Gregg Berhalter. He has given that club a resilient, cohesive identity during a time when it appeared it might relocate to Texas and reached the playoffs in four of the last five seasons–including 2017, when it beat Atlanta in the opening round in a penalty shootout.
“He is a manager that has a plan, has ideas on how he wants his team to play, and he’s able to get the best out of them, and again that’s going to be huge with the group of players that we have with the national team so to have someone like him," Guzan said. "In terms of his philosophy, it’s going to be important. But time will tell.”
In the end, Guzan believes once a permanent manager comes in, it will have a major impact on the squad, as the players finally will have some long-term stability and the removal of uncertainty that has hung over the team for over a year.
“Having an interim manager for an extended period of time is never easy on anybody, so this decision will be massive, not only for the federation but ultimately for our team moving forward,” says Guzan, who returned to the U.S. squad this fall after a 13-month absence. “I think as a group of younger players, having that direction, having those ideas put into place will be very important moving forward.”
In terms of his international competition, the U.S goalkeeping position has young, talented up-and-comers impressing such as 23-year-olds Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge) and Zack Steffen, who reportedly will be heading to Manchester City this winter.
Guzan, who spent almost 10 years in the Premier League, (Aston Villa, Hull and Middlesbrough) is familiar with what it’s like for a U.S. player to play in Europe.
“It’s never easy when you go to that side of the pond," Guzan said. "You’ve got to fight through some adversity, and you’re being pushed every day so you become a better goalkeeper, you become stronger from the inside. But at the same time, the challenges will be there, but hopefully that’s all to help our federation get back to winning ways.”
Guzan admires and respects the talent within the squad and is very much aware of the competition, but his focus remains on himself and how his hunger to play for club and country keeps him going, regardless of his growing age. He'll be 38 by the time the 2022 World Cup in Qatar begins.
“You want to challenge yourself, you want to push yourself, and ultimately when it comes to selection time, that’s up to the manager to make a decision. I never look at it for myself. Ultimately it’s about getting our program back to winning ways.”
For all of the talk about the future, for now, all eyes are on Thursday night in Harrison, N.J., where Guzan and Atlanta have a chance to reach their first final. Then, the rest can fall into place.