On Monday, Atlanta United confirmed the news was indeed as bad as initially feared: Starting goalkeeper and club captain Brad Guzan suffered a ruptured right Achilles’ tendon in Saturday's 0-0 draw with FC Cincinnati.
In sports, it’s among the worst injuries to suffer. The club did not release a timetable for a return, but it’ll almost definitely be next season. Guzan, who turns 38 years old in September, is under contract through the 2023 season.
Guzan has been Atlanta’s starting goalkeeper since their expansion season (2017), joining halfway through the campaign. He has been a leader and key piece to their trophy-winning seasons, including MLS Cup, the US Open Cup and Campeones Cup. He is the club’s all-time leader in appearances.
He will be difficult to replace, but combined with third-string goalkeeper Dylan Castanheira also suffering a ruptured Achilles this month, Atlanta have just two healthy GKs on the first team: Current starter Bobby Shuttleworth and first-year homegrown signing Justin Garces, who has been the starter with ATL UTD II in the USL Championship. They’ll likely need another body, at least, if they don’t look to bring in a new starter.
The Primary Transfer Window remains open until May 4, before the Secondary Transfer Window opens on July 7 (runs through Aug. 4), if they look to bring in external help. Let’s run through some obvious options.
Quick caveat: Clubs try to prepare for these scenarios by keeping shortlists for all positions. There are bound to be a ton of other options – Sporting Kansas City went to the Serbian league to get Nikola Vujnovic on loan after Alan Pulido’s injury, as did the New England Revolution with Djordje Petrović for their Matt Turner replacement – so this isn't the full picture.
Before getting into external replacements, MLS veteran Bobby Shuttleworth was brought in to be Guzan’s backup after Alec Kann departed. Kann, regarded by many across the league as an overqualified backup, got his chance to start with FC Cincinnati and took it, turning down a new contract offer from Atlanta.
Shuttleworth, who turns 35 in a month, made his MLS debut in 2010 and has started 221 games in this league. He was a starter with Chicago Fire FC the last two years, before wunderkind goalkeeper Gaga Slonina took the job towards the end of last season.
He could remain the starter for the rest of the season.
"I'm not Brad [Guzan] and I'm not looking to be him,” Shuttleworth told media on Monday. “I'm myself... I'm just trying to be who I am and bring the things that I do well to the team."
Looking around MLS, the prime club to target for a starting-caliber goalkeeper is Minnesota United FC because they have two.
This offseason, the calls were about Dayne St. Clair, with Tyler Miller slotted to be first-choice. The Loons rejected all advances for St. Clair as a number of clubs reached out. Now, St. Clair has become the starter with Miller back to the bench, so it stands to reason clubs will call about Miller now.
Miller, 29, has made 100 MLS regular-season starts, including as LAFC’s goalkeeper for their first two seasons. He was a key cog in the Black & Gold's record-setting 2019 season before signing with Minnesota in 2020 to be the starter. He began this year as the starter but was unavailable for the team’s third game due to the flu. St. Clair then stepped in and delivered a performance that earned him Player of the Week presented by Continental Tire honors, and St. Clair has been starting ever since.
Both St. Clair and Miller are being paid like starters. While MNUFC have said at every turn they’re not just going to give away either player, both players want to be starters, and teams don’t often carry two goalkeepers at their cap hits by choice.
After excelling in the USL Championship, American goalkeeper Josh Cohen has been a revelation in the Israeli league, winning Footballer of the Year as he led Maccabi Haifa to a league title last year.
MLSsoccer.com learned Atlanta have had talks with Cohen, who can be acquired on a free transfer this summer when his contract expires. The interest and talks predate Guzan’s injury.
Cohen, 29, has made 118 appearances with Haifa, including the in Europa Conference League this year. He played for Sacramento Republic, Phoenix Rising and Orange County SC in the United States before heading to Israel in 2020.
Haifa are in first place towards the end of the Israeli season, looking to win their second consecutive title.
Cohen was also on New England’s radar, but talks never got serious before they signed Petrović.
A well-respected veteran in MLS, Jimmy Maurer has been second choice for FC Dallas behind winter signing Maarten Paes.
Maurer, 33, is under contract through next season with a club option for 2024. He had been Dallas’ starter since 2020 and has made 55 MLS appearances.
The LA Galaxy have a clear first choice in Jonathan Bond, and they also have another option to take over as the backup in Richard Sanchez.
Perhaps Jonathan Klinsmann is expendable?
The former US youth international (and, yes, son of former USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann) has started seven games over the last two years with the Galaxy.
Klinsmann was with Germany's Hertha Berlin and Switzerland's FC St. Gallen before coming to the Galaxy, but the 25-year-old didn’t make a first-team appearance in league play for either club.
A bit further off the radar is Matt Freese.
Freese is a strong backup option for the Philadelphia Union behind Andre Blake, regarded among the very best goalkeepers in the league. While Freese has made 13 MLS appearances over the years, at 23 years old and in his fourth professional season, he might be open to finding a place with more minutes available.
The former US youth international is under contract through this season, while the Union have club options for 2023 and 2024.