Kadner: A local legend in soccer’s World Cup
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org June 25, 2014 8:50PM
United States' goalkeeper Brad Guzan works out during a training session in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Monday, June 23, 2014. The United States will play Germany in group G of the 2014 soccer World Cup on June 26 in Recife, Brazil. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Updated: July 27, 2014 8:13AM
When the men’s U.S. soccer team takes on Germany on Thursday in the World Cup, there will be more than national pride at stake in two Southland homes.
For years, Karen Guzan and her family drove her son, Brad, to Rockford and northwest Indiana in the same day so he could play soccer and baseball.
Today, Brad Guzan, 29, who grew up in Homer Glen, is the backup goalkeeper for Team USA.
As the starting goalkeeper for Aston Villa in the English Premier League in 2013, he became only the fifth American ever to win a team’s Player of the Season award in the league. He also won the Terrace Trophy, awarded to the team’s top performer by its supporters.
In 2007, Guzan was named Major League Soccer’s Goalkeeper of the Year and one of the league’s best players.
He has been on the U.S. Olympic men’s soccer team, and this is the second time that Guzan has been named to the U.S. National Team, where he backs up goalkeeper Tim Howard.
Guzan lives in London with his wife, Breanne, who grew up in Lemont. The two became childhood sweethearts while attending Providence Catholic High School in New Lenox.
Breanne is back home now, living with her parents during the World Cup, and stopped by the Guzan homestead in Homer Glen to talk with this reporter.
“There’s basically no time off for soccer players who compete in the World Cup,” she said.
During the season, there are scheduled breaks so players can attend international training camps and games. And as soon as the regular European season ends, there are international team tryouts, practices and games, all in preparing for the World Cup that occurs every four years.
“In years when there is no World Cup, the national teams are always preparing for the next event,” said Brad’s father, Richard Guzan, who has worked for Jewel-Osco for more than 30 years.
“Brad gets about two weeks of vacation a year,” Breanne said. “Professional soccer players who participate in international competitions have the least amount of time off of any athlete.”
When Guzan is playing overseas or competing for the World Cup or Olympic teams, Breanne returns to Lemont to visit with her family.
There was no history of soccer in the Guzan family until Brad’s siblings started playing as children.
“I would lug him around to his brother’s games when he was little to watch,” Karen said. “He was very big for his age, and one day a soccer coach for AYSO Lemont said I should let him try out for the team.
“So I told Bradley, come on, let’s get in the car. He didn’t look happy, thinking we were going to watch his brother play again, but I told him ‘we’re going to sign you up for soccer.’ He said, ‘You mean I don’t have to go watch games? I can play!’ He was 4 years old and playing in a 5-year-old league.”
Guzan eventually played for Homer Junior High School before enrolling at Providence, where he became something of a legend.
He primarily was a soccer fielder, not a goalkeeper, even in high school. But as Providence competed for the state soccer championship, his squad found itself tied at the end of regulation play and facing a shootout to move on.
“During the break, his coach told him to put on the goalkeeper’s uniform because he was going to be in the net,” Karen recalled. “Nobody expected it because he hadn’t played in goal during that game and wasn’t the team’s starting goalkeeper. It was a shock when the team came out of the locker room.”
Providence won that game, and Guzan became something of a legend in Illinois soccer history, although his team did not win the state championship.
Guzan divided his athletic time between baseball and soccer for most of his youth, often playing games in both sports on the same day more than 100 miles apart. One day, his coach on the Sparks Baseball Club, an elite traveling team, told him he had to choose one sport.
“Brad chose soccer,” Richard recalled with a smile. “I still see that coach and often tell him that forcing that choice on Brad was the best thing that ever happened to him.”
Karen, a former schoolteacher at St. Bede the Venerable on Chicago’s Southwest Side, now helps run a family-owned security business started by her father.
“My primary thought when I found out how good he was in soccer was that he could get a college scholarship,” she said. “I was always about education.”
Guzan did get a college scholarship to South Carolina, but in his sophomore year a coach for another team told him it would be a good year for him to join the MLS draft.
“I wanted him to stay in school,” Karen recalled. “He said, all right. But if I graduate two years from now and can’t get drafted, what are you going to say when I show you that diploma?”
Karen decided she didn’t want to jeopardize her son’s sports career.
It’s been a long road to stardom since that point, with Guzan spending years as an apprentice before slowly rising to his current position.
After leaving U.S. professional soccer to sign with Aston Villa, he served as a backup goalkeeper for years to another American, Brad Friedel. After Friedel left the team, it was assumed that Guzan would move up to the starting spot, but the team signed another goalkeeper.
“He was always positive,” Breanne said. “He always said he just had to work harder, get better, and he focused on being a good teammate.”
He has kept that same attitude as the reserve to Howard on the World Cup team.
But the Guzan family has to be sort of hoping that something will happen to Howard so Brad can start, right?
The question produces winces and groans from everyone in the family.
“We never do that,” Richard said.
But he notes with pride that soccer experts have said the U.S. team has the best pair of goalkeepers in the World Cup.