Not the finished product yet
As Brad Guzan sits there watching the NFL playoff game in your room, you almost wonder if he chose the wrong sport. Not because of the interest he's showing in the action -- c'mon, he is from Chicago -- but from his enormous size that makes him look a lot more like a young offensive lineman than a soccer player.
And, yes, we're using the term "soccer player" rather than simply call him a goalkeeper. Don't get me wrong, Chivas USA is getting themselves a full-time goalkeeper. A damn good one, too. That's why the 6-foot-4, 210-pound 20-year-old was selected as the second overall player in the 2005 Major League Soccer SuperDraft. But up until this point of his life, Guzan has only solely concentrated on his shot-stopping abilities for two years of his career, and that was at South Carolina where the coaching staff didn't have a position coach to look after him.
"What's unbelievable about Brad is that he's only beginning to touch what his potential can be," said South Carolina assistant coach Bryan Cunningham. "Once he gets in with his own goalkeeper coach to work with him one-on-one every day - my God, he'll be twice as good as he is now, and that's saying quite a bit, too."
Playing as a goalkeeper was always a part-time gig for Guzan. Growing up in Home Glen, Ill., as a player for of the powerhouse Chicago Magic club, Guzan was much like any of the other kids you either know or remember playing with. With his size and athleticism, his prowess was needed both on the field and in the goal. He'd play as a stopper and as a centerback most of the time, and then would take a half here and there in the goal.
"A lot of times I was more of a field player with the Magic," explained Guzan, "And then I would play as a goalkeeper with ODP (Olympic Developmental Program).
Usually around the age of 15 or so, a promising young goalkeeper is taken off the field so he can dedicate himself to his position and learn all the ins and outs of it. That usually means goalkeeper camps, private training sessions with a goalkeeper coach and endless afternoons filled with "Goalie wars" and physically-draining practices off to the side of the field players.
But as he went through high school and the older stages of club and ODP play, Guzan was still splitting time depending on the situation.
His longtime coach with the Chicago Magic, Mike Matcovich, laughs about it now, considering how quickly Guzan became the best young goalkeeper in America in a relatively short amount of time.
"It was just two years ago when we were playing in the national championships and we had him out there as one of the centerbacks," said Matcovich. "He was obviously a great goalkeeper, but we had another good one on the roster and we knew Brad could be effective for us as a defender."
It really wasn't until the 2002 adidas ESP camp for the top high school players in the country that his stock really started to soar and the college coaches starting flocking to see him. Just after finally making his first regional team that spring, Guzan got his invite to ESP, and then proceeded to blow the coaching staff away and win the camp's prestigious Gold Glove honor.
"After that," said Guzan, "the U-18 national team called me in, and I was really on the map."
Of course, even after winning an award that confirms you're one of, if not, the best goalkeepers in the nation, Guzan spent his senior year of high school soccer playing as a central midfielder and a centerback. He even earned All-Midwest and All-State honors as he led pint-sized Providence Catholic High School to the state tournament.
"I think it was good for me," said Guzan. "It was my last few months to enjoy the game and be with a lot of my friends. I don't think it hurt me not playing goalkeeper during that time."
Of course not. In fact, it not only gave his body a rest from the rigors of a 9-month-long season for the Magic and ODP, but it also helped his foot skills that have made him such a huge prospect in the eyes of his new head coach, Thomas Rongen.
"Brad is one of the best goalkeepers I've seen with his feet in the past 10 or 11 years," said Rongen. "I was shocked when I saw him with the U-18s for the first time. Having him back there will allow us to play a style where he can play off his line so we can play through him and rely on him to change the point of attack."
Guzan, a left-footed player, said that it's more than just the technical abilities he developed from playing as a defender for much of his life that will aid his goalkeeping. It's a mindset and knowledge of what's going on in front of him.
"I understand the roles of the guys in front of me," he said. "I've been in their shoes so I know what they are going through and what sort of direction they need to hear at times. I can relate much better to them, and they can relate much better to me."
As far as the rest of his game goes, Guzan seemingly has all the tools. His quickness off his line is shocking for a man his size, and he has the necessary fearlessness and authoritative leadership instincts that define most of the top goalkeepers. Rongen was quick to say that you never want to put a lot of pressure on a young player by comparing him to a worldwide star, but he didn't mention a couple of pretty big names when asked about his new goalkeeper.
"Quite frankly, he reminds me of Brad (Friedel) and Timmy (Howard)," he said. "He's young and inexperienced, but that's the type of bright future he has."
The fact that Rongen only has one goalkeeper on his roster right now speaks volumes about the confidence he has in Guzan, too. A veteran goalkeeper is expected to join the side from Chivas in Mexico -- the "big club" -- or from around MLS, but Guzan will have every opportunity to win the job.
"He'll clearly be right in the mix for it, yes," said Rongen.
Cunningham doesn't think that Guzan would be over his head if he stepped straight out of college soccer as a sophomore and into the pros.
"I wouldn't be surprised if he were starting by the middle of the season," he said. "They are going to be blown away not only by his skills and athleticism, but also by the way he trains. He's so dedicated to being the best, and he's a fighter. You can't teach that."
Guzan has already gotten a little taste of what it'll take at the next level, as well. Right before the draft, he spent two weeks in France training with Auxerre along with former club teammate Jed Zayner (Indiana University) and two other MLS draft picks Jack Stewart (Chicago Fire) and Kevin Goldthwaite (San Jose Earthquakes). While Guzan was going there for the experience and not on trial, Auxerre showed interest in him, and will be watching him closely in the coming year, according to his agent, Patrick McCabe.
There's also a few major clubs aware of Guzan in England, too. After he performed well at the Milk Cup during the summer of 2003, scouts from both Arsenal and Liverpool showed interest. Going abroad is something Guzan would love to consider one day, as he mentions the names of Friedel, Kasey Keller and German Oliver Kahn amongst those he wants to be like, but for now he's excited to be moving on to MLS and to a new franchise like Chivas USA.
"This past summer with the Chicago Reserves, it hit me," said Guzan, remarking about the PDL team he played for, alongside fellow draft picks such as Danny O'Rourke (San Jose), Drew Moor (FC Dallas), Julian Nash (FC Dallas) and Boyzzz Khumalo (Chicago). "I knew that in six months or so my dream of being a professional would be a reality. It's what I've wanted to do since I was five years old.
"To be able to do this 12 months out of the year, without school to worry about, and have soccer be my life, is hard to even imagine right now. It's all finally coming true."
Now all he has to do is learn some Spanish.
Marc Connolly covers soccer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at: email@example.com.