Brad Guzan is back in the United States. And this time, unlike the past nine years, when his U.S. men’s national team duty ends, he’ll be sticking around.
After spending nine years in England, mostly with Premier League side Aston Villa, the 32-year-old is returning to Major League Soccer and will join up with Atlanta United.
Before he gets started in Atlanta, however, Guzan has some other business to take care of.
The U.S. team is looking to reclaim the Gold Cup title this month after archrival Mexico took home the trophy in 2015. The biennial tournament determines the champion of CONCACAF, the region incorporating North and Central America, as well as the Caribbean.
The U.S. got group play off to a somewhat disappointing 1-1 draw against Panama last weekend, but faces two easier games to close out Group B when it takes on Martinique on Wednesday in Tampa and then Nicaragua on Saturday in Cleveland.
“From my point of view it wasn’t our best game,” Guzan said of the Panama match. “It left a little bit of a sour taste, but in saying that … (the) result gives us an opportunity to continue to build on as we go into our second game of the tournament.”
Should the U.S. team advance, the championship is set for July 26 in Santa Clara, California.
Guzan has more than a decade of experience with the national team, including a stint as the starting goalkeeper for the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team — the last American men’s side to qualify for the Olympics. His experiences in Beijing have stuck with him his entire career.
“You remember as a kid watching the Olympics on TV and to have that title as an Olympian, no one can take that away from you,” Guzan said.
For most of his senior national team career, though, Guzan has played a supporting role to starter Tim Howard. With the 38-year-old Howard nearing the end of his career, Guzan could be in line for a larger role as the U.S. works to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
The goalies split duties in the team’s two World Cup qualifiers last month, with Guzan getting the start in a 1-1 draw at Mexico’s famously hostile Estadio Azteca.
Before coach Bruce Arena names a starter for the next World Cup qualifier, against Costa Rica on Sept. 1 in New Jersey, Guzan will have made his return to MLS.
Guzan established himself as a starter in the Premier League — the world’s most high-profile soccer league — but after nearly a decade overseas, he felt the time was right to come back to the league where his career began in 2005.
“There were a couple different factors in it,” Guzan said. “(There were) some personal factors, but at the same time you watch the league grow, you watch MLS get bigger all around the world.
“In England you’re able to watch two or three games a weekend on TV, and to see that support and to see the buzz of the league, it’s something I want to be a part of.”
The league that Guzan will be a part of in 2017 is much different than the one he left in 2008 — MLS has added nine new teams since then, including the expansion side the goalkeeper is joining.
A tidy illustration of the league’s growth can be found in a comparison of the team Guzan left, Chivas USA, and his new club, Atlanta United.
Chivas USA was a failed experiment, a concept that never caught on. Created as a sister franchise to Mexican side Chivas de Guadalajara, the club eventually folded in 2014 due to poor ownership and indifferent fan engagement.
In contrast, Atlanta United is a first-year team with committed ownership that is leading the league in attendance and playing an attractive, up-tempo style of soccer masterminded by former FC Barcelona and Argentina manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino.
“It doesn’t take that much to look at how much the league has grown,” Guzan said. “When you look at my individual situation of being at Chivas USA … and how things worked out there and how different things are being done in Atlanta, it’s exciting to me on a personal level.”
Seth Vertelney is the Washington, D.C.-based deputy editor for Goal.com and has covered soccer as a freelancer for various publications. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.