Brad Guzan's first Premier League minutes for club team Aston Villa came after legendary American goalkeeper Brad Friedel had been sent off, and Guzan faced a penalty from Liverpool attacker Steven Gerrard.
Speaking exclusively to Goal.com, Guzan explained what went through his head as he headed onto the pitch for his first Premier League game.
“At that moment you just try to prepare yourself mentally and physically in a short amount of time to enter the game,” he said. “It wasn't our best performance by any means, so it was a bit of a difficult situation to come into, but at that moment, it was also a good feeling to get the first one under my belt.”
It was a baptism of fire to the English domestic game, but that won't have phased Guzan.
In his first year as a professional, a 20-year-old rookie, he was handed the starting spot for expansion club Chivas USA as the team finished last in Major League Soccer overall and leaked a league-high 67 goals. He missed time that year after colliding with Colorado Rapids forward Diego Serna's knee as he bravely went for a ball, and still has the chipped tooth and swollen lip to prove it.
“He got thrown into a tough situation his first year, one that would have probably set back a lot of goalkeepers, but he handled it real well,” said former-club coach and now-national team boss Bob Bradley. “He was always a team guy.
“Now he's moved on. I'm sure if you asked him, he would prefer to play every match for Aston Villa, but he has a lot of respect for Brad Friedel and understands that when you go to Europe, nothing will ever be given to you. He has to earn it.”
Game time is one of the things that hasn't been given to Guzan. He has seen limited action in the UEFA Cup and the domestic cups, but is currently behind Friedel in the pecking order when it comes to EPL games. Friedel currently holds the record for consecutive EPL starts at over 180, and shows now signs of giving that up, even at 38. Guzan spoke about the difficulty of trading in valuable game time for practice sessions.
“Whenever you're not playing games, you're always going to have that itch to prove yourself,” he said. “You can train, you can train, you can train, but at the same time it's extremely difficult, even in the best environments, to create game situations in training. So when you get those games, you have to take advantage of them. You have to accept those and hopefully prove to the manager that you belong, that you can play, and that you can handle that duty.”
Guzan is currently trying to prove himself worthy of staring duties on two fronts: at Villa and for the U.S. national team. Regular starting 'keeper Tim Howard is suspended for the World Cup qualifying match in El Salvador on Saturday, and Guzan has been tipped to deputize. But even that won't come easily for the battling 24-year-old.
“We know it's going to be a difficult game, definitely, 100 percent,” he explained. “We know it's going to be a hostile environment, but if we approach the game with the right mentality and the right work ethic that we have in past games, I think we should be the stronger team.”
The tougher the game, the more at home Guzan is likely to feel.
Zac Lee Rigg, with additional reporting from Andrea Canales in El Salvador, Goal.com