July 2010

US World Cup Cycle Report Cards: Goalies Edition

This is the first of a four-part Series of Report Cards for the U.S. Men’s National Team’s Four Year World Cup Cycle, 2007-2010. While we are not issuing grades for all 92 players capped by Bob Bradley during the cycle, we will feature players not on the World Cup roster who either figured prominently in the run-up to the 2010 World Cup. We will issue grades of A-F, rather than player-rankings style grades of 1-10. We’ll also account for players who will surely be on the USMNT radar as they prepare to find 23 good men to travel to Brazil. We begin with goalkeepers.

Tim Howard, Everton FC, A +

Summary: Howard was as advertised throughout the cycle—a dominant player who provided spectacular performances and vocal leadership. Kept a clean sheet six times in qualifying, including the Americans 2-nil victory to begin the final round against Mexico. Nine clean sheets in all competitions in the cycle, and a “he’s not human” clean sheet performance in a friendly against Argentina in New York just before the final two rounds of qualifying began. At the World Cup, he was massive despite injury against the Three Lions, and his distribution set up the winning goal against Algeria that helped the Yanks win the group.

High Point: The Spain game in the semifinals of the Confederation Cup. His man-of-the-match performance secured him the Golden Gloves for the tournament, making him the first American player to win a top player award at an international competition. His saves on Fernando Torres and David Villa were the type of athletic, rangy saves only a few goalkeepers in the world can make. Cemented his status as one of the world’s top keepers.

Low Point: There was only one. Unfortunately, as all goalkeeper mistakes tend to be, it was costly. He was a bit off his line on Boateng’s opener against Ghana in the round of 16. The finish was clinical, but Howard is too good to be positioned where he was and there’s at least an argument he makes the save if he is on his line. Not enough to remove the PLUS from his A, however.

2014 Outlook: Right now, he’s the starting goalkeeper in the next cycle. He’s committed already and I think if he’s stays healthy he’ll still be the starting goalkeeper in 2014, which begs the question whether Brad Guzan will get a chance to start in a World Cup.

Brad Guzan, Aston Villa, B –

Summary: Did a fine job filling in when needed during qualifying, though those games were either early in the CONCACAF qualifying tournament or after things had been decided. Couldn’t do much about the various goals he conceded at the 2007 Copa America—after all, that was an experimental side with almost no defensive experience in front of him. Made a move to Aston Villa mid-cycle that has improved his play, or so sources say, and seems to be a favorite of his skipper Martin O’Neill to take over when longtime keeper Brad Friedel steps aside. Kept three clean sheets in qualifying as well as one in the Olympic games, and made one very fine save early in the 3-0 win over Egypt at the Confederations Cup that kept the U.S. from trailing early and in many ways changed the attitude of the side in the locker room. They were a different team after that game. Was roughed up in a send-off friendly against the Czechs, and entered South Africa the US number three.

High Point: The Egypt game is the obvious answer because Bob Bradley inserted him into the senior team lineup and he delivered, along with the rest of the team. He was also excellent in the Olympic opener against Japan, parrying away a header at close range to preserve the lead late.

Low Point: His line on the set piece equalizer against Holland in the waning moments of the second Olympic match. He should have done better, the US should have had three points, and Orozco’s red card would have been irrelevant. That said, who knows if a few angry fans start a certain blog if Guzan is on his line and makes the stop.

2014 Outlook: Hard to think he’s not on the roster. Friedel will be retired by then, one would think, and he’ll have every opportunity to be the guy at Aston Villa before Martin O’Neill looks elsewhere. If Howard is not fit, or his form slips, it could be Brad Guzan starting the tournament in Brazil.

Marcus Hahnemann, Wolverhampton FC, C

Summary: In everyone’s favorite Slipknot fan’s defense—the grade really should be incomplete. He did not feature in a single competitive international match for the United States during this cycle. He was somewhat spastic but kept his clean sheet in a half against Australia in the final friendly leading up to the World Cup tournament, and was the U.S. number two, a fact we only learned after Tim Howard was lying prostrate on the pitch for five minutes after his collision with Emile Heskey. The main thing he did was answer the phone when Bob Bradley called upon him, time and time again, even for the disastrous European friendlies with Denmark and Slovakia in the autumn of 2009.

High Point: Warming up on the sidelines when American hearts had stopped beating waiting to see if Tim Howard could continue. At least a few fans were relieved to be able to replace Howard with another keeper who started in the English Premier League.

Low Point: Missing the Gold Cup and Copa America in 2007 due to injury. That had to hurt, especially because he’s a starter in the latter if he was fit.

2014 Outlook: I actually wouldn’t mind seeing his aviators on the sidelines as the goalkeeping coach for the USMNT. That’s the only way he’s in Brazil.

Troy Perkins, DC United, C

Summary: A bit up and down for the DC United man. Was playing for Norwegian side Valerenga during most of the World Cup cycle. Made his debut for the U.S. in January 2009 in a 3-2 win over Sweeden, and was then called upon for a tired USMNT for the 2009 Gold Cup, and was in net for the final against Mexico, as well as five of the six American games. Recorded his first international clean sheet in the Gold Cup opener against Grenada. Probably the fourth option for South Africa, and obviously he watched from home. Is the starter now at DC United, but has yielded time to Bill Hamid with some uncharacteristically shaky performances.

High Point: Man-of-the-Match honors against Honduras in the Gold Cup semifinals. He made four saves, three of which were outstanding in a match the U.S. won 2-0 despite being thoroughly outplayed. Ending 2009 with the best goals against average (1.26) of any keeper in the player pool was quite an accomplishment as well.

Low Point: The 5-0 embarrassment on home soil against Mexico in the 2009 Gold Cup Final. Perkins could have done better on a pair of the goals, making late decisions on one breakaway and being off his line for the opener. That said, he had kept a young team with tired legs in the tournament, and had he not conceded five, I’d have thrown a plus on the end of his Satisfactory cycle grade.

2014 Outlook: At 28, Perkins is still relatively young in goalkeeper years. That said, I’m not certain a move back to MLS was the right move for a guy who would love to be the third keeper in 2014. My guess is he misses out (barely) again.

2014 Players to Keep An Eye On:

Chris Seitz, Philadelphia Union—Immense talent and former U-23 star for the US who helped steer the Olympic team through qualifying. He had a bit of a rough go of it early on for the Union, but it was a new team and while some mistakes aren’t defensible, he’s gotten a great deal better. Plenty of time to improve and will get a real shot for 2014.

Earl Edwards Jr., UCLA—An immense athlete and easily the most-hyped US Soccer goalkeeping prospect to ever grace the system. There are arguments that he’s as good as Seitz right now, and he hasn’t played a game for the Bruins yet. At 6’3, 200 pounds he probably could have gotten a football scholarship, but chose soccer over playing tight end. Featured for the U-17 USMNT at the 2009 U-17 World Cup, and was called in to the U-20 camp this past December by Thomas Rongen. All accounts indicate he won the job at that camp too, and we’ll see him between the pipes at the U-20 World Cup in 2011.

Yanks Are Coming Way Too Early Three For 2014: Howard, Guzan, and Seitz. I really want to pick Edwards but I think he’s a cycle away. Since a prediction eight years early can’t be called bold and can’t be thrown back in my face—I’ll predict Edwards starts the World Cup opener, on home soil, in 2018. And yes, I said 2018.

Neil W. Blackmon is a senior writer for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at neil@yanksarecoming.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @nwb_usmnt.

Neil W. Blackmon