When Aston Villa starting goalkeeper Shay Given went down with an injury in an early December match against Manchester United, Alex McLeish was forced to turn to American backup Brad Guzan, who has been patiently waiting for a starting role in the Premier League ever since joining Villa from Chivas USA in 2008.
Guzan has proved to be a stable option in goal for the Villans, who have a hold on a mid-table position while battling other injury woes along with a tough stretch in the schedule.
Villa has gone 1-2-1 with Guzan as a starter, with the losses coming to Liverpool and Arsenal and the most recent result being a 0-0 draw at eighth-place Stoke City. Guzan has appeared confident, in command and aggressive, proving to be anything but hesitant when coming off his line for free kicks and crosses through the area. His play has earned praise from McLeish, who told the club's official website:
"At training every day he's never complained, he's always been alive and alert throughout his backing up to Shay. I've been impressed by him. He did very well at Stoke. He came and took a couple of crucial long throws and corners. A keeper's confidence soars after that.
"I watch him closely in training, and he turns up for his work every day and puts in a shift. He doesn't just go through the motions, he works from start to finish. I always thought he could handle it."
Guzan's next challenge is perhaps his toughest one yet: Saturday at Stamford Bridge, when Villa faces Chelsea. Assuming Given does not suffer any setbacks to his hamstring over the next week, Guzan will likely face Swansea City on Jan. 2 and then Bristol City in an FA Cup match on Jan. 7 before relinquishing starting duties.
His starting cameo has essentially acted as a tryout on the main stage for the 27-year-old Guzan, who earned starting time on loan at Hull City in the League Championship last season and would benefit from regular playing time to get back on the U.S. national team radar. Although Guzan's current contract expires at the end of the season, Villa has been vocal about its wish to lock him up to a new deal, although for Guzan that would mean reverting back to a mostly backup role.
"I want him to stay here and I told him that," McLeish said. "We realize his ambitions, and at 27 he may want to play some regular football. This will have given him a huge appetite for it. But we are very pleased with him."
How do you rate Guzan's time as a starter for Villa thus far? Do you hope to see him go on loan when Given comes back or go elsewhere in the summer? Or do you see Villa as a good place for his long-term prospects?
Share your thoughts below.