HANOVER, N.J. – Returning to MLS has been an eye-opening experience for Brad Guzan.
The longtime US men’s national team goalkeeper moved back to the States this summer to join Atlanta United after spending nearly a decade in the English Premier League. His 2008 move from MLS to Aston Villa came when the league was still searching for an identity – a fact perhaps illustrated best by the fact that his former MLS employers, Chivas USA, no longer exist.
When he joined Atlanta in July, he stepped into a league that has grown, expanded, brought in quality internationals and is producing young talent that is turning heads.
And even though Atlanta are going through the usual bumps of an expansion season, Guzan’s new club boast tremendous infrastructure, have legitimate star power and draw some of the top attendance numbers the league has ever seen.
All that makes Guzan marvel at what has taken place within MLS while he was abroad.
“I mean, I've enjoyed it. It's been a good transition, we've got a good team down in Atlanta. It's been good to be back, see some familiar faces when you're playing games and things. Overall it's been really good,” Guzan said on Tuesday following USMNT practice ahead of Friday’s World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica at Red Bull Arena (6:30 pm ET | ESPN, Univision, UDN).
“The quality has obviously increased, the league has [gotten] better. The support, the stadiums – not playing in a bunch of NFL stadiums that are holding 10,000. When we get down to Atlanta after these set of qualifiers and we open up Mercedes-Benz [Stadium] for the first time, I think they're expecting a full house. We have a special atmosphere that we've been able to create down there. The support’s been really great. The league, just in general, has grown so much.”
The 32-year old Guzan currently has 57 appearances with the national team, a number that likely won’t grow in Friday’s match against Costa Rica and next week’s Hexagonal matchup at Honduras.
The 2007 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year is playing at a solid level, but likely will remain behind Colorado Rapids backstop Tim Howard in Bruce Arena’s pecking order. Still, he’s been stout in his return to the league, even if he ended his stint in England with less-than-regular playing time at Middlesbrough. In Saturday’s tough 2-2 result at Philadelphia, Guzan made four saves and was solid. If he wants to jump Howard in the coming months, his MLS performances will be paramount.
Playing time with a possible eye towards being the starting goalkeeper at next summer’s World Cup certainly factored into his move to MLS.
“Listen, you always want to be playing games. At the time I made the decision…January, February whenever it was, things weren't going great at Middlesbrough, wasn't playing a lot of games,” Guzan said. “As a professional, you ultimately want to be playing.”