Aston Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan has all the credentials to be one of the best rush goalies around.
Before he headed off to study sport and entertainment management at university the teenage Guzan played some of his youth football at Chicago Magic as an outfield player.
And, although he quickly found he had greater potential between the sticks, Guzan acknowledged his time spent further up the pitch helped make him a more complete player.
“Right before I went to the University of South Carolina when I was about 17 I played for a team back in Chicago where I was an outfield player,” said Guzan.
“It was probably because I was physically one of the biggest guys in the squad at the time. I played as a kind of holding midfielder in front of the back four.
“So in other words I basically ran around smashing into people and heading it!
“I played in a national final as an outfield player as well – I just didn’t have the speed or the ability to carry on playing at university level so I went back in goal.
“I think I’d trained as a goalkeeper at the same time from about 12 years onwards. Also my older brother was a goalkeeper and when I was growing up I always saw him playing in goal.
“I found out I enjoyed it as well and having played outfield I’m not bad with the ball at my feet for a keeper.”
Guzan’s experience as an outfield player has enabled him to develop a better understanding of what is unfolding in front of him and appreciate the mindset of his team-mates.
“It has definitely helped me with shouting at them and giving instructions,” explained the 28-year-old United States international.
“For 90 minutes the guys have been running around and working their socks off and they are inevitably knackered towards the end of the game.
“You have a bit of sympathy for them because it is not always easy if you have defended for long periods of time. It’s given me understanding of what they are going through. But I never played anywhere near the same level so I’ve only got a bit of an idea and probably a bit of a false one! But you try to lift them and help where I can.”
And Guzan, who rejoined Villa in the summer on reduced terms after his contract expired, recognised that while a goalkeeper is seen as a very specialist position he can improve his all-round game with work on several different facets to his game.
“You need to work on hand-eye coordination, agility and athleticism. You need to work on all of those things including communication – it’s not just one aspect that makes a goalkeeper what he is,” he said.
“I think you have to take these different areas and mould them together and that’s what the final product is. We are constantly working towards that, to that final product, with the stuff we try to do on the training ground.”
With a significantly reshaped four this season it has taken Guzan some time to familiarise himself with his new defensive colleagues, but insisted that was not an excuse for their current predicament.
“Any time you bring in new players it takes a bit of time but we are not going to use that as an excuse,” added Guzan, who has displaced Shay Given as Villa’s first-choice keeper this season.
“The manager has brought in extremely talented players to get the job done and now it’s a matter of building on what we have already done and pushing forward. If we do that then hopefully we will find ourselves on the other side of things and picking up a few more points.”
Villa boss Paul Lambert will check on the fitness of captain Ron Vlaar (calf) and striker Darren Bent (foot) ahead of the trip to face Reading at the Madejski Stadium.
Chris Herd is pushing for a place in the matchday squad following his return from a foot injury but fellow midfielder Fabian Delph will miss out as he serves the first game of a two-match ban.