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Brad Friedel: The World’s Best Player Who Doesn’t Compete for His National Team?

February 27th, 2010 · 6 Comments · Abu Dhabi, soccer, World Cup

Brad Friedel is probably the best goalkeeper in the Premier League. Which, arguably, makes him the best goalkeeper in the world.

Yet he hasn’t played for the U.S. national team since 2004. He announced his retirement from “international” soccer — that is, the U.S. national team — in February of 2005.

Since then, he hasn’t missed a match in the Premiership, setting a league record in the process (currently at 215 straight), and was named the league’s keeper for the decade by Sky Sports analyst Andy Gray.

So, why is this guy not playing for the U.S. national team?

I’m trying to reconstruct this, and having a bit of a hard time.

What seems to have happened is that Friedel was nicked up in 2004, as qualifying for 2006 was going on, and coach Bruce Arena went ahead with Tim Howard as his No. 1 keeper, which may have annoyed Friedel who, anyway, also seemed ready to give up the grind of international travel to focus on his England career.

Did someone get huffy? Friedel? Arena? Both?

Maybe. But Friedel’s continued absence is queer. Either we have a coach too proud to ask (that would be Bob Bradley, now) or a player too self-focused to be bothered.

But know this: There can’t be a team in the Premiership that wouldn’t rather have Brad Friedel in goal than Tim Howard. Even Everton, and that’s where Howard plays.

Even at age 38, Friedel has given up far fewer goals (for Aston Villa) this season than has Howard at Everton. By a count of 21-37.  Actually, Friedel’s club has given up the fewest goals in the Premiership, even though Aston Villa is seventh in the standings.

Friedel has 11 shutouts in 26 Premier League matches. Howard has six in 26.

How good was Friedel with the U.S. national team? He was a backup at the 1994 and 1998 World Cup (he got the start in the 1-0 loss to Yugoslavia that meant nothing). But in 2002, he played every match in Korea and it was no coincidence that the U.S. got to the quarterfinals.  He saved two non-shootout penalties in that World Cup (one in the crucial tie with South Korea, one vs. Poland), the only time that has been done in World Cup history.

Yet he didn’t even try to make the 2006 World Cup team. He ceded it to Howard, who has never been quite as good as he generally is considered to be.

OK, some links:

Friedel, in late 2004, on how he is thinking of retiring from international soccer. Which he would make official the following February. Note the quote about “I’m fully aware about who pays my wages …” and that would be Blackburn, his English club at the time. He also talks about how “if my body can’t cope with traveling all over the place …” Also note Bruce Arena, U.S. coach at the time, saying he hadn’t shut the door on Friedel.

Kasey Keller, Friedel’s rival for the starting job in 1998 and 2002, seems to suggest Friedel had gone native (in England) several years ago.

And here is video of Friedel chatting with, well, yes, a sort of dodgy northern English accent. Keller has never suddenly acquired an English accent, even after all his years there. (Though John Harkes did for a while, as I recall.)

And while we’re doing video, here is Friedel scoring a goal in a Premiership match. Almost never happens.

And his wiki page. For generic stats.

How big was Friedel with Blackburn Rovers? He played more matches there than any player in club history. And you may have noted in the “dodgy accent” video link, he was mentioned in a song by a Merseyside group named Half Man Half Biscuit, a lyric from “I Went to a Wedding” in which the words are “I heard a girl saying to a tall, balding guest, ‘So you’re Brad Friedel. I’m mildly impressed.'”

So. Back to the present.

Where is the disconnect here?

Does the U.S. national team not want the best goalkeeper in the Premier League this season — and maybe for the past decade?

Does that goalkeeper simply not want to play anymore, preferring to nurse his health, get his rest and see how long he can extend his lucrative Premiership career?

Maybe both? All of the above.

We can safely suggest this, however: Brad Friedel may be the best player in the world who not only isn’t playing for his national team … but isn’t in the discussion for it. By mutual agreement. He ought to be the U.S. goalie in South Africa. Even if it means a handful of warmups and then plopping him down in front of England on June 12 in Rustenburg. (Don’t think that would give the Three Lions lads a start?)

But he will be watching the matches from England. If he even watches at all.

Weird. Very.


6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 todd // Feb 27, 2010 at 6:56 PM

    eeeehhhh…. we should just be happy Guzan is under his wing. The USMNT, even if Howard isn’t as great as believed, still isn’t in need of keepers.

  • 2 The Gentleman Masher // Feb 27, 2010 at 9:02 PM

    Great read…and I am a huge Brad fan. One thing, though…wasn’t it Keller that was named #1 for the ’06 campaign? Even more of a slap, considering that Keller isn’t even to the level of Howard.

  • 3 Jon // Feb 28, 2010 at 1:25 PM

    With plenty of respect for Friedel, I still think you’re being a little harsh on Howard (“never been quite as good as he generally is considered to be”? I’m not really sure what that means).

    I think plaudits for Friedel are deserved, but I don’t think goals against average is a completely fair way to judge goalkeepers at this level, playing for very different teams. Goalkeepers are not solely responsible for goals allowed, positively or negatively.

    You also say that David Moyes would rather have Friedel without referencing an explicit statement that Moyes believes Howard to be best in the world ( Now Moyes obviously has a vested interest in saying that about his own goalkeeper, but my point is that Friedel’s superiority to Howard is not as universal as you would have us believe in this post.

    Additionally, to use your logic of the U.S. reaching the quarterfinals at the World Cup, it can be argued that since Howard took the U.S. to the final of a major FIFA tournament, something no other goalkeeper has done, he should be the starter. Remember that Kasey Keller was in goal at the ’06 World Cup, so Howard can’t be blamed for that first-round exit.

    By players’ voting, Friedel was the PFA best goalkeeper in 2003, Howard in 2004, and neither has won it since. Edwin van der Sar twice, David James, Shay Given, and Petr Cech have won the award since Howard and Friedel.

    My contention is that, while Friedel may be better than Howard (that’s a separate argument), the difference between the two is not enough for the U.S. to worry about after six years without Friedel.

  • 4 josh // Feb 28, 2010 at 4:35 PM

    best keeper?
    not by a long sot

    pepe reina
    shay given
    van der sar
    and maybe cech are all infront of him

    stop hyping him up because his american

  • 5 Gonzo // Mar 15, 2010 at 1:20 PM

    Best Goalkeeper Today !? It’s hard to say for sure… Better than Casillas or Buffon, i don’t know, but better than:

    Van Der Sar
    Julio Cesar
    David James
    …and many others to be unamed, for sure he is…

    For someone his age, nationality, & position to be a consistent player and consistently be played in the best league in the world !?!?!? You have to admit that says something. He doesn’t hold the most consecutive appearances/starts record for club & league in the Premier League for no reason. You don’t have to play in “Powerhouse” teams to excel in the soccer world, and so Brad Friedel proves that.

  • 6 Brian Robin // Mar 16, 2010 at 11:53 AM

    He is no worse than the third-best keeper in the Premier League.

    I’d still put Van der Sar and an on-form, standing-on-his-head Cech ahead of him, although Friedel is vastly more consistent, which is what you’d rather have in a keeper anyway.

    Is Friedel better than Casillas or Buffon? Probably not, especially at his age. But I would take Brad Friedel ahead of every one of those keepers you listed: not to mention Akinfeev, Almunia, Kahn or others who escape me.

    Oh, BTW, excellent subject and piece, PaulO.

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