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MLS Alums: Guzan losing footing

There are no guarantees in life. But this season, former Chivas USA goalkeeper Brad Guzan knows that barring injury injury to Brad Friedel, he can count on sitting on the Aston Villa bench in the English Premier League every week. In cup games, however, it's been a different story.

Guzan has been in goal for every one of Villa's UEFA Europa League, League Cup and FA Cup matches this season. But last Saturday, the trend changed as Villa manager Martin O'Neill left Guzan on the bench for the FA Cup fifth round game at Crystal Palace. Now, speculation is rife that Guzan will not start in the League Cup final against Manchester United on Feb. 28.

That would be a tough break for the Chicago native. He posted back-to-back shutouts for Villa in their first two League Cup games, a 1-0 home win over Cardiff City in third round and a 0-0 tie at Sunderland in the fourth round. The Sunderland game went to penalty kicks and Guzan came up big as Villa advanced in the shootout. A 4-2 win at Portsmouth in the quarterfinals led to a two-leg semifinal showdown with Blackburn Rovers. Guzan posted his third shutout of the cup run in the first leg 1-0 win at Blackburn, but the second leg was a very different story.

In the second leg at Villa Park on Jan. 20, Rovers quickly erased Villa's aggregate lead with a Nikola Kalinic header from a corner kick that Guzan flapped at inside his six-yard box but completely whiffed on. Unsettled by their goalkeeper's unsteadiness, Villa soon gave up a second goal and a big upset was suddenly on. However, Villa settled their nerves with a goal in the 30th minute and ran out 6-4 winners in the most memorable 10-goal game of the season. But Guzan's first goal error was compounded by another on Blackburn's fourth strike. That performance seems to have shaken O'Neill's confidence in his backup goalkeeper.

O'Neill praises Guzan for pushing Friedel, and quickly acknowledged his role in Villa's League Cup run, declaring at a press conference last week, "Guzan was as big a reason as anyone why we got through." But now that the business end of the season is at hand and Villa are pushing for silverware and a European berth for next season, it looks like Guzan will have a watching brief.

Friedel has been outstanding again this season for Villa, and as the Birmingham giants have not won any English silverware since a League Cup win in 1996, O'Neill is unlikely to take any chances against mighty Manchester United at Wembley.

Friedel has already shut out the Red Devils this season in Villa's 1-0 win at Old Trafford on Dec. 12. In the return EPL encounter on Feb. 10 at Villa Park, Friedel was again outstanding in a 1-1 tie. Now, with Friedel starting against Crystal Palace this past Sunday in the FA Cup, it seems that Guzan will suffer one of the worst experiences any player can have in English football -- being shut out on cup final day at Wembley.