May 14, 2015
By Michael Lewis
Brad Friedel, an appreciation
For those of you who think history is something that happened five seconds ago, and nothing more or nothing less, I have a history lesson or two for you.
It's about goalkeeper Brad Friedel. Because he starred for the U.S. national team so long ago, some of you might not even know who he is and I'm not kidding.
Some 13 years ago -- now that might be the stone age for some of you -- Friedel stood on his head and then some for the Americans at the 2002 World Cup in Korea, stopping just about everything kicked and headed his way. He was so good that he backstopped the United States into the quarterfinals, losing to eventual semifinal Germany on a controversial non-handball call.
Actually, Friedel performed his heroics for the national side well before that World Cup. During the 1995 Copa America in Uruguay, he stoned Mexico in a penalty-kick shootout after the teams battled to scoreless draw in the quarterfinals. What stood out for the 6-3 Friedel was his incredible wing span -- aka as his reach -- while denying and frustrating El Tri penalty takers while swatting away their attempts. In case you were interested, the 5-6 Jorge Campos was the Mexico keeper who stood no chance in besting Friedel in that important duel.
Sorry folks, it wasn't the dos a cero result we have gotten accustomed to -- but a 4-1 tie-breaker win sufficed to propel the Americans into the semifinals, where they lost to Colombia as a fabulous ride was stopped.
Moreover, he was fearless in the penalty area, taking no prisoners, guarding the goal with an intimidating presence as though it was his life.
Friedel, who turns 44 on Monday, officially announced his retirement on Thursday, although perhaps many fans probably did not realize he still was an active player. He had been the understudy to Hugo Loris at Tottenham Hotspur in England since 2013.
During his prime, Friedel was one of the greatest, perhaps the greatest, goalkeeper in the history of U.S. Soccer and U.S. soccer. He made 82 international appearances while battling the likes of Tony Meola and Kasey Keller for some precious time guarding the woodwork for the red, white and blue.
Unlike other positions, you can only use one player at a time in the goal.
So, during those days, it wasn't easy for keepers a goalkeeper to get fulltime work all the time as USA coaches were forced to pick between Tony Meola (100 appearances), Kasey Keller (102) and Friedel.
Just consider that the golden age of American international goalkeeping as those three formed an incredible triumvirate of players who guarded the goal that spanned in five World Cups and almost 300 games over an astounding 20-year span (1988-2007).
Sometimes a national team is fortunate to have one GK who can keep the ball out of the net on a consistent basis (please check the recent history of English goalkeeper woes for some examples).
During that juncture, there were some pretty good keepers trying to break into the top three who were performing in England, including Juergen Sommer (Brighton, Kettering Town, Torquay United, Queens Park Rangers from 1991-1998), Ian Feuer (West Ham United, Peterborough and Luton Town from 1994-98) and Mike Ammann (Charlton Athletic, from 1994-96). In case you were wondering, Keller played at Millwall, Leicester City, Tottenham and Fulham from 1992 to 2008, and Friedel performed at Liverpool from 1997-2000, Blackburn from 2008-11 and Tottenham from 2011 until now.
Now, that was the golden age of USA keepers in England. As it turned out, there were more American goalkeepers starting in the English Premier League at one time than English players.
Ironically, we'll get an opportunity see Friedel a lot more in the coming months if not years because he has joined Fox Sports as an analyst and commentator.
Here is one thing about Friedel that you should know and understand why he finished with "only" 82 caps. In 2005, he decided to retire from international soccer. If my memory is correct, the wear and tear of flying back and forth from Europe to the United States had taken its wear and tear and Friedel wanted to concentrate on domestic soccer. He was only 33 at the time, still pretty young for a goalkeeper.
Who ever thought he would have lasted another decade?