Brad Guzan on MLS: The league has grown by leaps and bounds


Brad Guzan on MLS: The league has grown by leaps and bounds

Since joining Aston Villa in 2008, Brad Guzan's transition from being a regular for Chivas USA in MLS to being taken under fellow compatriot Brad Friedel's wing in his first three years yielded few first team appearances in Birmingham.

When Friedel left the West Midlands for North London, however, the doors opened for Guzan. Having played second fiddle to Shay Given during the 2011-12 season, the 30-year-old still cobbled together seven appearances. From there, Guzan has established himself as Villa's No. 1, featuring in all but two league matches between 2012 and 2014.

Another praiseworthy enterprise throughout the 2014-2015 Barclays Premier League campaign eventually saw the American lose his place as Tim Sherwood's first-choice goalkeeper, however, as Given deputized for the remaining four matches along with a start in the FA Cup final loss to Arsenal on May 30.

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Despite some of the uncertainty surrounding his role for the Villans, Guzan - born in Evergreen Park and raised in Homer Glen - is turning his attention to international duty with the U.S. national team. Under the guidance of veteran Tim Howard - amid a one-year sabbatical - Guzan, a one-time central midfielder at Providence Catholic High School, is now primed to claim the No. 1 jersey as Jurgen Klinsmann's side begins its CONCACAF Gold Cup defense in July. 

"It's definitely going to be different, but I'm excited for the challenge," he said. "Being in from the start, it's going to be an exciting tournament and an exciting month for us. Hopefully we finish it with a championship."

Prior to the Men in Red's 1-0 defeat to Eastern Conference-leading D.C. United, Guzan dropped by the Pregame Live set on CSN to chat with Dan Kelly and Kevin Egan about all things soccer. A former member of the Chicago Fire Reserves, Guzan reflected on his time as an up-and-comer, lauding Major League Soccer's commitment to developing talent and burgeoning into a well-respected league.

[MORE: Five things from Fire vs. D.C.: One chance is all it takes]

"It's huge," he added. "Giving opportunities to kids to come through the ranks, but then have the opportunities with the first team is such a huge part of soccer, not only with MLS, but with the growing of the sport as well.   

"The league has grown by leaps and bounds. The view of the league - from players, coaches and fans (in Europe) - is that it's getting bigger; it's getting better, not just because the David Beckhams of the world that came here and made a name for themselves. It's the standard of the league that's gone up, and it's starting to interest so many players over there."

After forgoing the rest of his college years at the University of South Carolina, Guzan went on to sign a Generation Adidas contract with MLS, and was subsequently picked by the now defunct Chivas USA in the 2005 SuperDraft. Ten years later, and with the league's popularity swelling, Guzan hasn't yet ruled out a return stateside.

"I've always said I want to finish my career playing in MLS," he said. "From the day I left to where it is now, it's something that I want to come back to. When that day is, I don't know. But at the moment, I'm enjoying my soccer over in England." 

Check out what else Guzan had to say in the video above.

Fire sign veteran MLS forward Alan Gordon


Fire sign veteran MLS forward Alan Gordon

As far as notorious players in MLS with a history of scoring big goals, Alan Gordon is one of the first names on that list.

The Fire signed the 36-year-old forward on Friday, continuing to add depth to a roster that appeared paper thin throughout the preseason. Gordon, who had been on trial with the Fire for part of the preseason and even after the season opener, signed a one-year deal.

Gordon adds plenty of experience from being in the league since 2004 and having scored 55 goals with five different teams. For the past few years he has been used primarily as a substitute, but has still maintained his reputation for scoring goals late in games.

At 6-foot-3 he brings plenty of size and strength to the team and is one of the best players on headers in the league. Last season the Fire failed to score directly off a set piece, which was both due to consistently poor service from corner kicks and a lack of players adept at finishing them off. Gordon should give the Fire a late-game option in that area.

Elliot Collier had impressed the Fire enough to earn a contract as a third-round pick and an international player and even came off the bench in the opening loss to Sporting Kansas City, but it appears the team wanted more experience at forward with Gordon.

Wild season opener shows plenty of things to work on for Fire

Wild season opener shows plenty of things to work on for Fire

If you were looking for entertainment, goals, plot twists and storylines, the Fire’s season opener had all of those boxes checked.

What it didn’t have was even a point for the hosts against Sporting Kansas City on Saturday at Toyota Park.

The first half showed a Fire team which very much looked like the “incomplete” roster that general manager Nelson Rodriguez referenced just before the season. KC led 2-0 and the Fire failed to get a shot on target, showing a lack of chance creation and any semblance of a dangerous attack.

The second half showed a Fire attack which was capable of turning the heat up on the visitors, but also a defense which couldn’t defend. Sporting's 4-3 win revealed that there’s plenty of work to do for the Fire to resemble the team that finished third in the MLS regular season last year.

“Especially in the first half we saw that we weren’t ready to compete with a team that had an advantage that they had one competition game before us,” coach Veljko Paunovic said. “That was the main difference in the first half, but the adjustment in the second half was tremendous. I think just showing that we can score three goals that quickly and create even more opportunities was a positive.”

However, Paunovic wasn’t about to let his team off the hook by only speaking about positives.

“What we learned today is that we have to get better on every side of the game and in every aspect of the game,” he said. “We are not there. We didn’t have a good game. I think overall a lot of innocent and naive mistakes.”

After trailing 2-0 at halftime, the Fire revved things up in the final 25 minutes and Bastian Schweinsteiger keyed the first goal with a slick assist to newcomer Aleksandar Katai. Nemanja Nikolic showed the scoring instincts and finishing ability that won him the league scoring title a year ago by scoring two more goals to give the Fire the lead in the 82nd minute.

Then it all fell apart, with two KC goals within four minutes of Nikolic giving the Fire the lead. Dax McCarty, your thoughts?

“You’re 10 minutes away from the headline and the storyline being Chicago Fire show great character, make a fantastic comeback, win the game 3-2 and yet here we are sitting here, somehow losing that game, which is insane,” McCarty said. “It’s totally insane.”

The defensive struggles, which Paunovic pointed out mirrored last year’s early playoff exit in a 4-0 loss, will need to get resolved internally. Johan Kappelhof, Brandon Vincent and Matt Polster all started on a competent defense last year and McCarty and Schweinsteiger helped play damage control in midfield. This isn’t what the weakness of the team was supposed to be yet after one game, it’s all anyone on the team could talk about.

“We gave up four goals,” Kappelhof said. “That’s not good. Simple.”

While more additions may be coming in-season, as Rodriguez has mentioned, and injuries haven’t allowed the Fire to start 2018 fresh, this game wasn’t a good sign for what’s to come for the 2018 Fire. A lack of any offensive creation in the first half and a lack of defensive concentration, as Paunovic put it, throughout the game showed a team that has plenty of pock-marks currently.

“We don’t know how to defend, quite frankly," McCarty said. "From back to front, front to back, the defending aspect of our game was pretty poor. A lot of things to learn."

The good news is even if the Fire take some time to correct the errors from Saturday’s season opener, MLS is a forgiving league. A majority of the league, 12 of 23 teams, makes the playoffs and league-wide parity means teams can go through slumps and still end in good standing. A year ago, the Fire lost six games out of seven and still had the third best record in the league. It’s OK if the team takes time to iron out some organizational issues defensively, just don’t take too long.