Kasey Keller knows a thing or two about being a starting goalkeeper for the United States.
Keller played 101 caps for the Stars and Stripes and battled the likes of Brad Friedel, Tony Meola and Tim Howard to become one of the U.S. team's greatest players in the position. Now a retired player who works for the Sounders and ESPN in television broadcasts and was named Castrol's new brand ambassador over the weekend, Keller admits that he has been impressed with what he's seen from Brad Guzan this season.
After waiting four years for an opportunity to start for Aston Villa, Guzan had a breakout season for the Villans as a starter for the club. Playing behind one of the worst Premier League defenses, Guzan was third in the league in saves this year and was named Villa's top player of the season. Guzan was also impressive for the national team, filling in for starter Howard in a win against Costa Rica and an away draw at Mexico.
While Jurgen Klinsmann has maintained that Howard has no competition for the starting role, Keller thinks that the U.S. head coach would consider Guzan as a starter if necessary.
"There's always competition," Keller insisted to Goal. "I think it comes down to someone would have to lose their job. If Tim's form dips with Everton and the national team, I don't think he would hessitate to put in Brad because he's been proving it week in and week out."
Keller believes that when Klinsmann stated that there was no competition for the starting position, he was sending a message that an injury wouldn't be a reason why Howard would lose his job.
"I think Jurgen is very happy with his situation right now. He feels comfortable knowing that he has two goalkeepers playing at the highest level and has performed for him on the national stage and are ready," Keller explained.
Keller admits Klinsmann has operated very differently from the managers who he worked with while playing for the U.S. During his time with the Red, White and Blue, Keller was rotated with Meola and Friedel and also saw the emergence of Howard. Keller, who last played for the Seattle Sounders, believes that even if Guzan had a better season next year, it would take a lot for Howard to lose his job.
"Why would Jurgen change his team when everyone's comfortable with Tim? I think that's what it really comes down to," he said. "Tim has to lose his position instead of Brad necessarily winning it."
Keller also talked about the U.S.'s rising young keepers in D.C. United's Bill Hamid and Chicago Fire's Sean Johnson. Keller likes what he sees from both players but warns them not to try to live up to their predecessors in the position.
"I think the first thing I would say to Sean and Bill is that they have to be themselves. Don't try to be myself, Tim, Brad or Marcus [Hahnemann]," said Keller.
Both Hamid and Johnson have had trials with European clubs over the past few years. Keller's advice to both men is to remain patient and continue to develop in MLS until the time is right.
"They have the opportunities and they should take advantage of them. Look at what Brad Guzan has done," Keller said. "He was able to start in MLS, make a name for himself and go to Europe. He was able to understand that sometimes it's not going to happen for you directly. It's going to take sometime especially at goal.
"You have to build that catalog of experience that is expected of a goalkeeper. Now, Brad has his chance. Not a great team, Aston Villa has been struggling but he's proven his worth. That's what it takes, that little bit of patience."
Keller believes that MLS is one of the few leagues that gives young goalkeepers opportunities to start and develop.
"What's nice about MLS is that a 22-year-old goalkeeper gets a chance,' Keller said. "There's not many leagues in the world where that happens. Take the chance to play, develop and improve and if the chance to go to Europe arises and then go there and develop. But understand that it isn't as easy as it looks."