Brad Guzan finally making his mark at Aston Villa

Guzan, who won Aston Villa's Player of the Month award for October, spoke with about getting a chance after four years with only one league showing.
It's the 87th minute and Aston Villa is battling against a Sunderland side that is gaining momentum thanks to 41,000 boisterous supporters at the Stadium of Light.

The Black Cats' star forward, Steven Fletcher, drives into the penalty box and launches a strike that is quickly blocked by Brad Guzan. Sunderland's Lee Cattermole follows up on the rebound and Guzan reacts. The two saves effectively end the home team's promising drive and gives Villa its second win of the year.

For some goalkeepers, this moment could drive up the nerves and blood pressure. Mistakes could have been made. But not for Guzan. He has been waiting for this chance for four years.

"There weren't any nerves or anything. This is what you train for," Guzan tells in a phone interview. "As a goalkeeper, you may not be called upon until the 86th or 87th minute and that just happened to be the case."

"It felt good," he adds.

After years of uncertainty, Guzan is finally having an opportunity to feature for Aston Villa. Originally signed to be Brad Friedel's understudy in 2008, Guzan only played in one league match as a result of the club's constant turnover at the managerial position and the arrival of Shay Given. Guzan was loaned away to lower-division sides and with his contract expiring last summer, it was thought that the 28-year-old would leave the club.

Then he had a chance to speak with new manager Paul Lambert.

Lambert's Influence

Upon Lambert's arrival at Aston Villa, the manager reached out to Guzan. The American keeper was immediately impressed by the former Norwich boss.

"When he came, he created an excitement and buzz about Aston Villa Football Club that wasn't there last year," Guzan explains.

It was that positive impetus that led Guzan to re-sign with the club even though Lambert never gave him any guarantee that he would feature any more than he had under previous managers. It was more of a gut decision for the Illinois-native.

"Anytime where a new manager comes in, you get a vibe," Guzan says. "I definitely liked what I was hearing about where the manager wanted to take the club and, for me, it was something that I wanted to be a part of."

It's a world apart from Villa's previous manager Alex McCleish. Guzan never directly criticizes McCleish but it appears the former Chivas USA star would have left the club if changes weren't made. When McCleish came to the club, he quickly recruited top Republic of Ireland international Shay Given, a move that Guzan acknowledged would mean he'd have to wait another year for playing time.

"I'm not sure how much they paid for Shay, but when you bring in someone like him with his caliber and his experience, everything that he brings to the table, he was obviously Alex McLeish's guy," Guzan says.

"He was his goalkeeper."

Guzan admits that there were times when he contemplated his next move, though rumors of a return to MLS were premature.

"Yeah, it was definitely frustrating when I wasn't playing in league games. I was thinking that maybe this wasn't going to be the right fit," he states. "Maybe it was time to move on."

He adds: "But at the same time I was happy to come back to Aston Villa and still be in Europe. Nothing against MLS but I still wanted to test myself out in Europe."


Things are much different under Lambert. Guzan reveals that the manager names the starters an hour prior to each match, and it just so happens that he's been the starter in goal since the club's 1-1 draw at Newcastle on Sept. 2.

Villa hasn't gotten off to a strong start as the Premier League club sits just outside of the relegation zone in 17th place, but Guzan says a major difference between Lambert and his predecessor is a clear message.

"I think he is fully committed to getting the best of everyone. Being able to talk to players and explain what he wants as a manager. Things like that make a big difference," Guzan says. "I've had managers in the past who would just throw names up on the board and be like, 'Alright, go out there and have at it.'

"There's an excitement about coming and going to train every day. It's a place where you want to be around as opposed to just showing up a minute before you have to and being the first one out of the door."

Villa's Future

Part of Villa's early season struggles could be attributed to the American-owned team's decision to stick with a relatively young side. At 28, Guzan was the elder statesman in Villa's win over Sunderland as the club started six players under 25. Yet, Guzan is reluctant to call Villa a rebuilding side.

"Obviously, we do have some younger players on the team but, as it progresses, their quality is showing," he counters. "They are definitely big-time players and that's what you need from a Premiership team. You need guys to step up and do a job. That also goes for the players that he's brought in."

In fact, Guzan compares Lambert's early days to the beginning of Martin O'Neill's successful era with the Birmingham-based club. He explains that O'Neill was given a chance to put the pieces into place and develop talents like James Milner and Ashley Young, who now feature for Manchester City and Manchester United, respectively. Now, the prospects on the rise are Barry Bannan, Ciaran Clark and Christian Benteke.

Guzan expects that Villa's current young starlets will eventually get to a level where they can help contend for the Premier League's European spots again.

"I wouldn't put a time frame on it but hopefully if we can start picking up results here and there, I don't see why we can't start now," he says. "We know it's going to be a difficult task but when you put the pieces in place, you give yourself half a chance to get results.

"For us, it's a matter of taking each game as it comes. If we start putting results together, you can make a run up the table. There's a lot of football to be played."

Lessons Learned

Guzan is thankful for his experience at Aston Villa despite the times when it appeared that the club neglected his progress. He insists that the experience has made him become a much better player. In MLS, he was already a star. Going to Villa allowed him to sit back and develop areas of his game that needed to improve.

"For me, when I first came into MLS, I was kind of thrown into the fire and played right away," he says. "Then when I came to England, I took a few steps back. But for me, now I'm back on track and playing consistent football day in and day out."

In fact, he praises both Friedel and Given for improving his game.

"Going against Brad Friedel and then Shay Given day in and day out made me a better goalkeeper," Guzan says. "Yeah, I've been through some tough times but I think I've come out on the better end for it. "

If Guzan continues to progress, there's no reason why he can't share a similar path as both mentors.