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US starting job in hand, Brad Guzan leaves Aston Villa woes behind for Copa

SAN JOSE, Calif. – When the moment came for passing the torch between US national team goalkeepers, there apparently wasn’t much in the way of ceremony – or controversy.

At the outset of US training camp last month, coach Jurgen Klinsmann sat down with both of his long-time veteran netminders and made his Copa America choice clear: Aston Villa’s Brad Guzan had already beaten out his former Premier League rival, Tim Howard.

“It wasn’t as exciting as you guys probably would have thought,” Guzan told reporters Tuesday before the Americans’ practice at Avaya Stadium. “We all had a discussion, in terms of Tim and myself and Jurgen – whether they had a discussion before that, I don’t know. But that’s when he told me.”

Guzan was the undisputed No. 1 at last year’s Gold Cup, when Howard took the summer off from international play. This is the first time the 31-year-old has supplanted Howard at a major tournament.

The job comes on the heels of Guzan’s worst professional season since moving to England in 2008. He bounced in and out of Aston Villa’s lineup as the storied franchise slumped to a dreadful last-place finish, suffering relegation to the Championship with four matches to play.

“For me, it was obviously a disappointing season,” Guzan said, “but as soon as the last game finished, as soon as I was on the plane to Miami for the start of the camp, my focus was only on this summer and being a part of this team.”

In assessing Guzan, Klinsmann had to try to separate the goalkeeper’s form from that of the Villains as a whole, even as the club was struggling week after week.

“It’s a process that he went through that was not very pleasant, the last year,” Klinsmann said. “On the other hand, I know him pretty well since five years. I know who he is. I know kind of strengths, weaknesses, all that stuff.

“I think – and I went through that myself – the national-team environment is very different to the club environment. And so you just hope that once he leaves the club situation behind him, that he kind of settles himself and stays consistent in what he’s doing with the national team. And over the last two years, he’s been very solid, very consistent with us. … He’s also experienced. He’s not a youngster. He’s 31 years old. And he deserves to have that spot right now.”

Guzan said he still has one season left on his Aston Villa contract and that he plans to report back for preseason, although he didn’t sound adverse to a change in scenery after eight years with the same club.

“The latest I saw, they’re in the process of trying to name a manager, and then once that happens, I’m sure there’ll be some discussions,” Guzan said of reports that Aston Villa are close to signing Roberto Di Matteo as their new boss. “Of course, everyone wants to play in the Premier League. In my eyes, it’s the best league in the world. In saying that, I’m still contracted to Aston Villa, I still have a year left. So essentially, it’s somewhat out of my hands.”

His Copa America fate, on the other hand, could be squarely between his hands. And a good showing with the US obviously wouldn’t hurt any job-seeking prospects.

“I’ve been over in England long enough now to understand you have to have thick skin and, as a goalkeeper, a short memory,” Guzan said. “So I’ve had good seasons over there, I’ve made saves. I think I’ve proven myself in terms of playing at the highest level. I’ve been fortunate to be a part of this national team for a few years now and have a few appearances under my belt. So there’s definitely no added pressure in that sense.”