Guzan ready to help lead youthful U.S. men’s team

Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan celebrates a 3-1 victory over D.C. United during the home opener in a MLS soccer match on Sunday, March 11, 2018, in Atlanta.    Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Caption
Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan celebrates a 3-1 victory over D.C. United during the home opener in a MLS soccer match on Sunday, March 11, 2018, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

After Saturday’s game against New England, three Atlanta United players will spend part of the next two weeks with their national teams.

Goalkeeper Brad Guzan will jet to Tampa to join the other 23 players selected by U.S. men’s national team manager Dave Sarachan to prepare for friendlies against Colombia on Oct. 11 at Raymond James Stadium and Peru on Oct. 16 in East Hartford, Conn.

“First and foremost, it’s always an honor to be called up and be affiliated with the national team,” Guzan said.

Midfielders Miguel Almiron and Hector Villalba will join the Paraguay team selected by new manager Juan Carlos Osorio. The team has no game scheduled because until recently it didn’t have a manager.

“It’s always an honor for me to be associated with the national team,” Almiron said. “I’m really excited to start this new process.”

The juxtaposition of how the players are perceived by those who follow the teams is intriguing.

Guzan, 34, will be the oldest player in a U.S. camp whose player pool has an average age of less than 24 years old. He has 58 previous appearances for the U.S.

Along with Michael Bradley, 31, Guzan was brought in to try to help show the youngers players what is necessary to succeed internationally and get the U.S. ready to begin qualifying for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

“When you are building a team, at some point there has to be the proper blend of youth and experience,” Sarachan told USSoccer.com. “As we head into these last four friendlies of the year, I felt the timing was right to begin that transition. I think it’s important to do it earlier than a week before the Gold Cup or a World Cup Qualifier. Bringing in players like Michael and Brad, who have a vast amount of experience and can be a great resource for our younger players – both on and off the field – is an important step for us at this point in time.”

“We’ve begun to develop a deeper pool across the board. As we continue to offer opportunities, it will strengthen us even more. At the same time, players need to understand that there is going to be competition for spots and for playing time, and that is part of the next stage of development for many of these young guys. I think we’re going to see that competition more and more as we move forward.”

Guzan said he isn’t there to hold the hands of the younger players. He plans on trying to lead by example, showing them how he works on a daily basis in training, practice and situations on and off the field.

“If there’s something that I’m able to offer the group, be it from experience standpoint, be it from playing, be it from anything, on the field, off the field, you want to try to contribute and help the national team get back to where it once was in terms of being a successful program,” Guzan said.

Michael Parkhurst, Guzan’s Atlanta United teammate, said his experience of being a backup on the U.S. team to Tim Howard before becoming a starter, to being a starter for club teams fighting to stay in the first division in England, gives him a wealth of experience that will help the less experienced players.

“Youthfulness is important and to have that free spirit and that youthful energy but you also need to have the discipline that hopefully is already there, or guys that have been there, done that and know when the tougher games come this is how things need to be, this is how camps need to go,” Parkhurst said.

“I do think it’s important that those guys are there. I don’t think those guys have played their last meaningful games for the national team.”

While the U.S. is still dealing with the disappointment of not qualifying for the World Cup in Russia, Paraguay is considered a team on the rise in the tough South American region. It is No. 31 in FIFA’s world rankings. The U.S. is No. 22.

Almiron, 24, has made 15 appearances for Paraguay since 2015. Villalba, 24, is in his first camp after switching his nationality from Argentina.

“Tito is going to provide a lot,” Almiron said about Villalba. “It’s not just him. He’s going to provide things just like all the new young players. It’ll be a good process.”

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