Three U.S. 'keepers making mark in EnglandPosted: Thursday August 14, 2003 9:40 AM
LONDON (AP) -- Flashy Brazilian midfielders? Clinical French forwards? Nah. American goalkeepers are the hot property right now in English soccer.
"Why the attraction to U.S. 'keepers? I don't know," said Blackburn's Brad Friedel.
Friedel was voted the best 'keeper in the Premier League last season, Tim Howard has sparkled in preseason for English champion Manchester United and Kasey Keller is the undisputed No. 1 at Tottenham.
"I know that U.S. players have good work ethics and attitudes," Friedel said. "Most U.S. 'keepers are athletes before 'keepers."
Friedel, from Bay Village, Ohio, was outstanding for the United States in last year's World Cup, leading the team to the quarterfinals.
He followed it up in the English league, keeping 16 clean sheets to overshadow Arsenal and England national team 'keeper David Seaman, France's Fabien Barthez of Man United and Liverpool's Jerzy Dudek.
Just how good was Friedel? So good that he attracted interest this summer from United and runner-up Arsenal. In the end, he decided to stay with Rovers.
"The last three years at Blackburn have been really good," said Friedel, who has also played with top clubs Liverpool, Galatasaray and Brondby. "Not just for individual reasons. If we as a team can reach our goals, that would be fantastic. If I can help out, then I will be even more happy."
And if strikers think Friedel is in for a letdown, they're in for a surprise. Friedel took five weeks off -- he and wife Tracy are expecting their first child in October -- and says he hasn't felt this fresh since his college days at the University of California-Los Angeles.
"Towards the end of last season, I had all these little knocks," said Friedel, referring to a dislocated toe, broken finger, jammed finger and injured nose. "If I would have played with the U.S. team in the summer, I would have been on zero preparation time for the preseason. This year, I'm feeling no pain anywhere. It's the first time in a long time I put on the gloves and not felt any pain."
Unlike Friedel and Keller, Howard didn't have European experience before coming to England. He joined from the New York/New Jersey MetroStars of the MLS and wasn't on the roster for the World Cup.
But Howard made his mark quickly as the hero in Sunday's Community Shield -- a match that features the top two teams from the previous year. He made two saves in a penalty shootout and stopped speedy forward Sylvain Wiltord one-on-one as United beat Arsenal.
"Brad Friedel was the best keeper last year by a long way. Kasey Keller has had a tremendous career in England, too," said United's veteran defender, Phil Neville. "So the English fans will all have every confidence in Tim mainly because of the traditions America have in that position."
With his command of the box and the players around him, Howard has already drawn comparisons to former United great Peter Schmeichel.
Howard, and not the out-of-favor Barthez, is expected to start against Bolton in the season opener at Old Trafford on Saturday.
"They like me coming out hard, and that is what I tend to do," said the New Brunswick, N.J. native. "The players wanted me to come in like that. They bash you if you are too quiet. I would rather tell them to shut up than say, 'Hey, where were you?"'
Even though he stole the spotlight in the shootout, Howard conceded a free kick from 30 yards out to Thierry Henry early in the first half. Friedel knows from experience that Howard won't be allowed to make the same mistake twice.
"Here, it simply doesn't matter what you've done in the past," Friedel said. "You still have to go out and prove it every week. If you don't, it'll get sorted out in the newspapers and on TV. If Tim was to give up that goal a second time, it would be highlighted everywhere."
Keller, from Lacey, Wash., played more than 200 games for England's Millwall before moving to the Premier League with Leicester City. After a two-year stint with Spain's Rayo Vallecano, he signed with Tottenham two years ago.
He quickly displaced impressive Scottish 'keeper Neil Sullivan and has been the first choice ever since -- he played in every game last season. Keller had minor elbow surgery in the offseason, missing the Confederations Cup.
He returned in time for last month's Gold Cup.
So how does Howard's emergence in England affect the national team? Friedel brushed aside any rivalry with Howard and called his long battle with Keller "friendly."
"I'm friends with Tim," Friedel said. "Everyone just needs to slow down a bit. He hasn't played one (Premier League) game yet. Kasey has been my friendly competition since 18 or 19. I got the nod in the '92 Olympics, he got the nod in the '98 World Cup, and I got the nod in the last World Cup. There will come a time when me and Kasey will go. Someone will have to take our place."
With the United States' growing reputation for producing goalkeepers, that shouldn't be a problem.