By JOEY SAMUEL
CHESTER, Pa. — Brad Guzan has spent four years as a backup goalkeeper at Aston Villa. But this year, as he and his club prepare for a new Premier League season, the starting spot could be within reach.
Earlier this week, Guzan put pen to paper on a new contract that will keep him at Aston Villa for at least the next three years. The American goalkeeper had been mulling other options since his previous contract ended in June. But he eventually decided it was in his best interest to remain at the club and fight for the starting goalkeeper job.
"I had a really good conversation with the manager," Guzan said after Villa's 1-0 win over the Philadelphia Union on Wednesday night. "He said that everyone is going to have a go to make their mark on the team, and at the end of the day, that's all I wanted, to have an opportunity to prove myself.
"If I do well, then great, and if not, I've only got myself to blame," Guzan said. "We have a really good group of goalkeepers at this club, and I think that's a testament to the way we train."
On Wednesday, Guzan played all 90 minutes as he led Aston Villa to a shutout win over Philadelphia at PPL Park. It was the first game in a preseason tour of the United States, which will continue on Saturday in Guzan's hometown of Chicago. Guzan needs all the time he can get to showcase his abilities, as he will have to beat out last year's starter, Irish international Shay GIven, if he is to win the job.
Last season, Guzan made only seven appearances has he filled in for Given when the Irishman went down with an injury in December. But despite GIven starting the vast majority of last season's matches, new Villa manager Paul Lambert insisted Wednesday that the job is up for grabs.
"It's a real difficult position, goalkeeping," said Lambert. "You have to vie for a place with one other guy. Shay Given is a top goalkeeper. The two will battle against each other, and it's an even thing for me at the moment.
"The football club's got Shay Given, who is a fantastic goalkeeper, and Brad, everything I've seen from him has been excellent," Lambert said. "It's an even keel for everybody. I think everybody knows that, and it's great that he's signed at the club again. It's up to the individuals to try and get into the side for the first league game."
Aston Villa will continue their preseason tour of the United States on Saturday, when they face the Chicago Fire. For Guzan, that game holds special significance as he returns to his hometown.
"It helps us to be able to come over and see U.S. fans that obviosuly love the game in England, and at the same time it tests us and allows us to get ready for the season," Guzan said. "For me personally, being able to come back to the U.S., especially like this Saturday going back to Chicago where I'm from, I'm really looking forward to it."
After Saturday's game against Chicago, Guzan and Villa will finish up their tour of the U.S. when they face the Portland Timbers on Tuesday. Aston Villa opens the 2012-13 Premier League season on August 18, when they travel to Upton Park to face West Ham United.