USMNT: Brad Guzan hoping to prove case to be No. 1 with start in final qualifier in Panama

PANAMA CITY, Panama – Marital bliss or an opportunity to represent the United States in the Gold Cup? Brad Guzan never wavered, and he’s never regretted it.

With the 29-year-old goalkeeper in line to make his third Hexagonal start against Panama on Tuesday at Estadio Rommel Fernández (9:30 pm ET, beIN Sport), it’s easy to forget that Guzan’s decision to forgo Bob Bradley’s call-up to the 2011 Gold Cup for wedding bells put his international career in – albeit briefly – limbo.

Some questioned his commitment to the cause, whether earning a place with the US as the next World Cup qualifying cycle approached carried the proper weight. Two years later, those questions have been answered in full.

“That was one of the happiest days of my life,” Guzan told following Sunday evening’s training. “I never doubted it. With our schedule, it’s not the easiest. Every summer – whether it’s a summer string of games, it’s Gold Cup, it’s qualifying – it’s hard, and then the cycle repeats itself. We don’t have too much time. It was never a decision I doubted.”

These days, with the personal side of things all sewn up, there’s little room for doubt or what-ifs in Guzan’s professional life.

He’s unquestionably the No. 1 'keeper at Aston Villa – turning in Man of the Match performances for Paul Lamber and reportedly drawing interest from Arsenal in the process – and, as Jurgen Klinsmann is quick to remind observers, is pushing USMNT incumbent Tim Howard for the same honor at the international level.

“I come in every camp and try to look at myself as a No. 1 and a guy that can be counted on,” Guzan said. “With goalkeepers, you never know. Something can happen in a warm-up or whatever. You come into camp hoping to play, expecting to play to a certain extent. If your name isn’t called, then obviously you’re disappointed. You just have to keep fighting because that’s what it’s about.”

Once on the outside looking in, he’s a shoo-in on Jurgen Klinsmann’s roster, a far cry from the months following that Gold Cup during which the German’s demand for first-team playing time kept the former MLS Goalkeeper of the Year out of the US picture, a situation now unimaginable after more than a year as a top performer in the Premier League.

Klinsmann made it clear following Howard’s release back to Everton on Saturday that Guzan would be the first name on the team sheet. And while that status comes via absentia for the understudy in one of the world’s best international goalkeeper tandems, there’s no doubt Guzan deserves every chance he gets to step between the posts.

“Brad Guzan has earned the opportunity to start against Panama,” Klinsmann said in a U.S. Soccer statement on Saturday. “He has been outstanding for Aston Villa all year, and he has been huge in the games he has played for us in World Cup qualifying. As I said before, we have one of the best situations in the world when it comes to our goalkeepers.”

If that wasn’t already clear based on Guzan’s performances for Aston Villa, his showing at Estadio Azteca in a famous scoreless draw and in the driving snow during March’s Snow Game against Costa Rica cemented his status in the squad.

Now the most pertinent question surrounding Guzan’s international career is not whether he’ll be called in, it’s how long will it be until he claims the US’ top spot from Howard, something the veteran seems determine to delay as long as possible.

On Tuesday, Guzan will get another chance to audition for the job, another chance to show he can be counted upon when the stakes are high. And while Guzan described the US’ goalkeeper glut as a “nice problem to have” and the competition with Howard “healthy,” he’s certainly not content to be No. 2 forever.

“I can play at the highest level,” he said. “This is now a chance to show to the coaches and show to the teammates that I can be counted on and I’m not here to come into camp and have 10, 12 days off and have a bit of a vacation. It’s serious. It’s work. It’s coming in to hopefully prove my case.”

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