CHESTER, Pa. – When the Aston Villa players got to Philadelphia ahead of tonight's international friendly against the Union at PPL Park (7:30 pm ET), a special delivery was waiting for them:
The American goalkeeper had left the team following the English Premier League season after initially failing to agree to a new deal – but happily rejoined his mates in Philly just days after signing a three-year contract with Villa.
“When we arrived [Monday], he was already here and he was giving everyone a hug and shouting up and down the corridor,” Aston Villa defender Richard Dunne said. “It was good to see him.”
Guzan has been with Aston Villa since 2008, and though he hasn’t played in many games, he’s still been a valuable part of the EPL side. Dunne called him “a positive and cheerful” player and said he was thrilled the US international was back with the club in time for their three-game preseason tour through the United States.
Following tonight’s match vs. the Union, Aston Villa will play the Chicago Fire on Saturday and the Portland Timbers on July 24.
“Apart from being a great goalkeeper, he’s a great character to have around the place,” Dunne said. “It would have been a big loss in the dressing room if he wasn’t here. The games he played last season, he was outstanding. It was probably unlucky he didn’t keep his place but it’s tough when you have a few good goalkeepers.”
Aston Villa’s other American star, Eric Lichaj, has had a less turbulent offseason but, like Guzan, is also eager to play some games in his home country.
Incidentally, Lichaj’s first cap with the US national team came at PPL Park, in a 2010 friendly against Colombia.
“I’m pretty sure he’s looking forward to it – and also the two games after this one,” Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert said. “I think he and Brad will enjoy being back in their homeland.”
As for the game itself, Lambert expressed caution about the severe heat that’s hit Philadelphia and noted he’ll likely use his entire squad as his players work toward full fitness. He also called PPL Park a “fantastic facility” and said he expects stiff competition from a Union club in the middle of their season.
Sitting up on the podium with Lambert, Union interim manager John Hackworth admitted his side might have the advantage because their EPL guests are aren’t in top shape. But because of the team’s grueling stretch, he also said he would give playing time to many of the team’s youngest and most untested players.
“It’s really an honor for us to have teams like Aston Villa come over and play at PPL Park,” Hackworth said. “We just have to manager our roster. Some players need rest and this is a great chance for guys not playing regularly to get some very valuable minutes.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org