COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Before Wednesday night, Columbus Crew SC's Brad Stuver and Valencia CF striker Alvaro Negredo were incomparable players.
Stuver is a third-string MLS goalkeeper who sits behind Steve Clark and Matt Lampson and has struggled to find playing time this season despite a solid USL PRO loan spell in 2014. Negredo is an experienced European striker leading the line for a Champions League club.
But when the two teams met in MAPFRE Stadium for a friendly Wednesday, the unlikely pair found themselves in almost a one-on-one duel.
Four times Negredo broke away on Stuver and only once did the world-class forward beat the 24-year-old Crew SC goalkeeper, an impressive performance even after a 1-0 loss.
"[Stuver] was good," Columbus Head Coach Gregg Berhalter said after the match. "He saved the one-on-one with Negredo, he had a couple of other saves, he was good. It's nice to see. Obviously, he hasn't been playing much and it's been difficult for him at times. But it's great to see when a player gets an opportunity that he takes advantage of it."
For Stuver, the opportunity to play a full match - while his other teammates played only 45 - was the real highlight.
"I was able to play the entire game, which was great for me," he said. "Last year, going on loan, getting games was a big thing. So getting 90 minutes tonight was definitely something I needed."
And after his first swat of a Negredo shot early in the first half, Stuver said he had all the confidence he needed.
"Every big save like that is definitely a confidence-booster," he said. "Getting the first one, pulling off that definitely got the confidence up. I have great guys in front of me that made the saves a little easier for me."
At one point it even seemed that Negredo said something to Stuver after the 'keeper wasn't fooled by the Spaniard's backheel attempt on goal.
"He just looked at me, walked by and said 'dang it,'" Stuver laughed.
Stuver almost got his ultimate redemption in stoppage time of the second half. Down a goal, Berhalter waved the 'keeper forward and Stuver found himself with the ball at his feet to tie the game. But a lunging Valencia defender blocked the shot to preserve the scoreline.
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"That's the good thing about friendlies; you can pretty much do whatever you want and nothing will go wrong," Stuver said. "I just looked over at the bench and Gregg kind of nodded his head. I was like, 'OK, I'll make a 120-yard sprint.' Luckily the ball fell to my foot. I'm really, really sad it didn't go in."
Berhalter said Stuver has made "a lot of progress," and was particularly happy with his ability to maintain control with his feet against Valencia's high press.
"If you look how comfortable he was with the ball at his feet playing out of the back under some pressure, that was really good to see," Berhalter said. "And then coming up with some big saves, that's what we ask our goalies to do. Steve's been doing it since he's been here, and it was great to see Brad step up and have a good performance."
As for Stuver himself, he says he's never felt more MLS ready.
"I feel really good right now; I think I'm at the top of my game," he said. "Being with [Crew SC assistant coach] Pat Onstad for two years and going on loan last year and getting games, it's really helped my development a lot. I feel really good about the way I'm playing right now."