If rumours are to be believed, Brad Guzan’s stay at Middlesbrough could be rather short-lived.
The 32-year-old American goalkeeper has played just three times for Aitor Karanka’s side since his summer move from Aston Villa after losing out on the No. 1 spot to Victor Valdes, and the likes of ESPN analyst Taylor Twellman and Goal USA’s Ives Galarcep have reported over recent days that he is now heading back to the USA this winter to link up with MLS expansion side Atlanta United.
The move would see the former University of South Carolina standout return to the league where he first made a name for himself as a professional with Chivas USA between 2005 and 2008 before joining Villa, but whether it would be a good deal for Atlanta is very much up for debate.
Having waited until September 2012 to become Villa’s first-choice keeper, Guzan subsequently helped save the club from relegation in back-to-back seasons with his shot-stopping heroics, but his decline in form since the start of the 2014-15 campaign has been painfully apparent. An increasing number of costly errors saw the US international dropped by three different managers during his last 18 months in the West Midlands, and while he has been able to produce some solid displays for the States in the meantime, he has still looked a shadow of the player who was previously considered one of the Premier League’s top custodians. If he were able to recapture his pre-2015 form, he’d almost certainly be the best keeper in MLS but, going by his more recent performances, it’s hard to imagine him outshining the league’s other leading stoppers like Tim Howard, David Bingham, Luis Robles and Andre Blake.
That wouldn’t be a big issue if he was on a relatively team-friendly deal, but it’s safe to assume that Guzan would only be returning to the US if Atlanta could make it worth his while. While Galarcep’s report suggests that the 53-times capped American will not be a Designated Player, the first-year club would allegedly be using targeted allocation money to bring his salary up to as much as $1 million-per-year. That number would be significantly less than his long-time international teammate Howard is making with the Colorado Rapids ($2.57 million), but it would be the second-highest amount for an MLS keeper by $675,000 ahead of D.C. United’s Bill Hamid.
That’s not to say that Guzan couldn’t prove an on-pitch success in Atlanta but, as with Howard, it’s near impossible to see him representing good value for money given the position he plays. With a surplus of solid domestic keepers, MLS teams have traditionally shied away from spending big between the posts, opting instead to use their resources further up the pitch where the right signing can turn a relative also-ran into a genuine title contender. In a salary cap-restricted league where everyone is looking for an elite playmaker or proven goalscorer, it simply does not make much sense to splash out on someone like Guzan when his role can easily be filled without breaking the bank. Of course, the Boro veteran’s experience may make him a valuable commodity in the dressing room – especially for an expansion side – but he isn’t exactly the kind of name that’s going to attract more fans to the stadium or shift many shirts.
Ultimately, Atlanta may be the perfect landing spot for Guzan himself as he looks to stay in contention for the USA’s starting job, but when the club could easily pick up another established keeper in the expansion draft like Clint Irwin at a fraction of the cost, there’s good reason to question whether Tata Martino’s side are making the right move. Few fans will be complaining if the Chicago native goes on to reproduce the performances that earned him the 2007 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year award, but his form over the last two years suggests that’s far from a guarantee.