Disclaimer: I love Brad Friedel. He’s a superb American goalkeeper who’s already a World Cup hero.
Friedel is having a great year as always. He’s in his second year with Aston Villa (great fortune getting off of that Blackburn ship before it sunk) and the team is one of three clubs hoping to nab the last Champion’s League spot away from perennial top four powerhouse Liverpool.
Incumbent American keeper Tim Howard and the Everton Toffees sit seven points back of Friedel’s Villa side and have a much less impressive defensive record more than halfway through the domestic campaign. Aston Villa has allowed a league best 19 goals, with Howard and his azure Liverpudlians allowing 36 to this point. These statistics have led certain U.S. soccer fans to call for Friedel, retired from international play since 2005, to be reinserted not just into the current Yanks roster, but into the starting lineup.
Pump your brakes ye overeager idealists.
The chatter that flies around Soccernet, CNNSI, and countless other soccer sites including this blog about Tim Howard being among the world’s best is well founded. His track record in both club and national team play is impeccable. So why the sudden statistical peak for Friedel and valley for Howard? Did Timmy randomly stop being arguably the best free kick stopper in the game? Did Big Brad decipher the Buffon Code and figure out how to be the greatest goalkeeper in the Prem at the age of 38? Neither is likely.
Let’s kick the ballistics on this.
In the case of Aston Villa, the club has put an emphasis on defense in the past couple years, replacing an aging Olof Mellberg and a retiring Martin Laursen with Premier League staples Richard Dunne, Luke Young, Stephen Warnock, and James Collins. They also added former Glasgow Ranger defender and 07-08 SPL Player of the Year Carlos Cuéllar. By the way, Cuéllar also scores on set pieces for Villa and the JFL Jackhammers (my fantasy team of course, thanks Carlos!). When cult of personality level college football and basketball coaches reference reloading as opposed to rebuilding, Aston Villa’s defensive unit is what they’re really talking about. The Birmingham club has bolstered its defense to such an extent that they’ve sold and loaned away the likes of formerly first choice defenders Zat Knight and Nicky Shorey, more due to lack of roster space than exorbitant transfer fees. Couple the team’s glut of quality defenders with a midfield full of England regulars and Bulgarian badass Stiliyan Petrov and you’ve got a recipe for ball possession and no nonsense defending at the back.
And in the spirit of Highlights magazines read in doctors’ office waiting rooms, I’ll now present the Goofus to Aston Villa’s Gallant. As well coached as Everton are, they get absolutely embarrassed in seemingly every transfer window. Enjoy this short play.
Everton: We really like that defender of yours, and we’re willing to offer five million pounds for him. (to be read in “someone’s” all too familiar Scottish brogue)
Defender’s Club: Sorry, the player in question is not for sale.
Everton: Well then, I’m sorry to hear that aren’t I. Carry on.
Everton: Here at Everton we hold one of your defenders in very high regard, you’ll be happy to know we’re willing to offer five million pounds for him.
Different Defender’s Club: We’re encouraged to hear that especially since we’re looking to raise funds in this transfer window to bolster our striking options. I think we’re getting close but we can’t let one of our top two defenders go for just five million pounds. I think we’re getting there though, what can you do to make this happen.
Everton: I’m not sure you understand mate, we have five million pounds and we’re offering it for your defender what do you say?
Different Defender’s Club: You don’t quite understand how the negotiation process works do you?
Everton: First of all, you just threw a big “n” word at me. Now because I don’t understand it I’m gonna take it as disrespect. Watch your mouth, as it is you won’t be doing business with Everton F.C. anytime soon.
This dynamite transfer policy combined with injuries to the club’s best defender and midfielder along with the sale of its second best defender led to a horrid start to the season for a normally proud defend-first club. All manager David Moyes had to show for the loss of Phil Jagielka, Mikel Arteta, Joleon Lescott, and Phil Neville were the purchases of the injury-prone Sylvain Distin and two-way wing defender Johnny Heitinga (a nice piece, but by no means a pure stopper).
Everton is finally getting it together after managing to get their injured core players back and finally making a shrewd loan move for Landon Donovan. Not to be overlooked is the recently inspired play of South African middy Steven Pienaar and French forward Louis Saha. But the club’s recent turnaround is immaterial as it relates to this argument. The point is that the club was in disarray for the full first half of the season, and they would have been allowing goals if Gigi Buffon and Iker Casillas had been allowed to man the net at the same time.
Tim Howard is still Tim Howard. He’s still a world class keeper whom teams like England and France would love to have in net for their national teams. He’s one of the few Yanks whose place in the starting lineup we never need to question.
Brad Friedel is a great American goalie on an amazing run in the twilight of his career. He had his day with the national team and it’s wonderful to see that his play never really dropped off. But let’s allow the guy who’s had a chance to form a unit with the current national team defenders play his position, and let’s be happy that Friedel is helping Brad Guzan take the next step and become the next great American keeper (for both Villa and the USMNT).
Jon Levy is a senior staff writer and managing editor for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.