Filling in for the consistently stellar Tim Howard isn't easy but Brad Guzan has been turning heads in spot duty for the injured United States No. 1 keeper.
Guzan has recorded back-to-back clean sheets for the Stars and Stripes in a 1-0 victory over Costa Rica and a scoreless draw against Mexico and has drawn praise from fans and media, with the biggest vote of confidence coming from Jurgen Klinsmann, who lauded the 28-year-old as "more than a No. 2."
"Brad's performance was huge," Klinsmann said. "He was very vocal and had great communication, he gave us a lot of confidence throughout the last 10 days. He understood his situation and knew it was unique but he made the best of it."
He added, "He made it clear that if anything happens to Tim right now, I'm more than a No. 2. That was the signal [sent]."
Due to Guzan's previous struggles to get club playing time, he wasn't too high on Klinsmann's radar over the past two years. Prior to his past two starts, he only played 20 minutes for the former Germany boss and regularly saw Bill Hamid, Sean Johnson and Nick Rimando picked ahead of him to be Howard's backup. Those circumstances changed once Guzan became a full time starter for Aston Villa this season.
Despite playing behind the Premier League's most inexperienced back line, Guzan has had a breakout year for Villa earning rave reviews from his club manager Paul Lambert. He is among the top three players in the league in saves and eighth in save percentage. It was those factors that enabled Klinsmann to feel confident in allowing Guzan to fill-in for Howard. Now, a bigger question looms: Has Guzan opened a legitimate competition for the No. 1 spot?
In the instant gratification culture that is sports fandom, there are already a few fans tweeting to see more opportunities for Guzan.
Not so fast, hinted Klinsmann.
While the U.S. coach's statements point to belief in Guzan's ability to be a starter in the position, it is clear that he values Howard's leadership and experience.
"There's still hope that Tim is getting as healthy as possible. He's a personality that we need, we need that leadership," Klinsmann insisted.
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DaMarcus Beasley wasn't able to repeat his Man of the Match performance versus Costa Rica against Mexico, but Klinsmann was more than satisfied with the veteran's performances over the past week. Beasley, a natural left winger, played at left back in his 98th and 99th caps due to injuries to both Fabian Johnson and Edgar Castillo.
Klinsmann admitted that the U.S. developed a defensive scheme utilizing Maurice Edu and Hercules Gomez to aid the 30-year-old in marking Mexico's speedy right winger Javier Aquino, but complimented Beasley for his intuition on the field especially after receiving an early yellow card.
"We tried to shift over Mo more so they could build a triangle [with Gomez] and help him out on the left flank, but he's [Beasley] so experienced. When he got that yellow card he knew he had to hold back," Klinsmann explained.
The United States will face Belgium and Klinsmann's native Germany in friendlies in late May and early June as its next two matches. Considering Beasley's recent work on the defensive end, there's a good chance he could get his landmark 100th cap.
Eric Gomez contributed reporting from Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.