The 31-year-old started the USA's Copa America opener against Colombia on Friday over Howard despite enduring a nightmare season at Villa.
Speaking to Sports Illustrated, Tim Howard has backed USA teammate Brad Guzan to put his recent struggles at Aston Villa behind him during the Copa America Centenario, labelling him “the best goalkeeping mind” he has ever been around.
Guzan, who joined Villa from Chivas USA in August 2008, established himself as one of the Premier League’s top keepers during his first two seasons as the club’s full-time starter between 2012 and 2014, but a dramatic decline in form over the last 18 months has seen him endure severe criticism from fans and the media alike.
The former MLS star’s plight led to him being benched on two separate occasions over the second half of last term as the Midlands side finished bottom of the table with just 17 points, while he also came under fire for his part in the “Gumgate” row that surrounded January’s 1-1 FA Cup third-round draw at Wycombe Wanderers.
At the same time, though, US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has kept faith with the Chicago native despite his dismal club campaign, naming him as the team’s starter for this month’s Copa America on home soil.
The 31-year-old stopper previously spent eight years as Howard’s understudy after making his international debut in 2006, but a solid run of performances while his long-time teammate took a 12-month break from international football following the 2014 World Cup earned him a chance to compete for the full-time job ahead of this summer.
Klinsmann’s decision was made somewhat easier due to Howard’s own struggles at Everton, but there still remains growing support among US fans for the soon-to-be Colorado Rapids keeper to be reinstated as the No. 1.
Nevertheless, the Toffees veteran insists that Guzan is more than up to the task and believes his mental strength well help him prove the doubters wrong over the course of the tournament.
“I've always said that if you could build a goalkeeper and you could take this guy's hands, this keeper's feet—the brain would be Brad's," Howard told SI.com. "His mental strength and fortitude is better than anyone I've ever seen.
“He has the ability to, even in the midst of chaos, to shrug things off and not in a flippant way. For me, he's the best goalkeeping mind I've ever been around.”
Klinsmann himself added on his decision to go with Guzan: “The national team environment is very different to the club environment, and so you just hope that once he leaves the club situation behind him, that he kind of settles himself and stays consistent in what he’s doing with the national team.
“And over the last two years, he’s been very solid, very consistent with us …. I know him pretty well since five years. I know who he is. I know kind of strengths, weaknesses, all that stuff. Brad right now looks very confident, very balanced, and it seems like he left that year behind him.”
The USA’s Copa campaign ultimately got off to a disappointing start on Friday night, as they fell 2-0 to Colombia in their first Group A game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California.
AC Milan defender Cristian Zapata opened the scoring in the eighth minute when he escaped his marker at a corner and sent a thumping header into the back of the net, before Real Madrid’s James Rodriguez converted a spot-kick to complete the scoring just before half-time after DeAndre Yedlin was penalised for a handball in the box.
Guzan, for his part, could not do a great deal about either goal and came up with five saves over the course of the night to keep the scoreline from looking worse.
With his future at Villa uncertain, an impressive tournament could help the 46-times capped American attract some decent suitors this summer, but he has stressed in the meantime that he still expects to see out the remaining 12 months of his deal with the Championship-bound club.
“At some point they’ll name a new manager,” he told MLSSsoccer.com before Friday’s appointment of Roberto Di Matteo. “So obviously that’s going to be important. But in terms of myself, I’ve got a year left [on my contract], so I don’t know what’s going to happen.
“As far as I know, I’m still under contract so nothing’s changed in that sense.”