081613new__isi_howardandguzan_usmntjt0526122421 John Todd/isiphotos.com
Statistically Speaking

Howard or Guzan? The Stats Might Surprise You

Tim Howard is firmly entrenched as the U.S. No. 1 in goal, but even Jurgen Klinsmann has said Brad Guzan is more than just a backup. So who should start for the Yanks? Blake Thomsen analyzes the stats.
BY Blake Thomsen Posted
August 16, 2013
10:58 AM
TIM HOWARD SHOULD comfortably retain his starting role with Everton when the English Premier League kicks off on Saturday—even if Roberto Martinez may half-heartedly hint otherwise. But Howard’s job may not be quite so safe with the United States national team.

At least that’s what the statistics suggest.

A close analysis of Howard and Guzan’s Premier League performances last season illuminates the various strengths and weaknesses of the two keepers. And if coaches based their decisions strictly on stats, the United States might be looking at a changing of the guard in the run-up to the 2014 World Cup. Here’s what we uncovered.

Since both keepers started 36 league games in 2012-13, we can look closely at several important stats and analyze the results within a sufficiently large sample size.

The most basic stat for goalkeepers, aside from the clean sheet, is save percentage. It provides a nice barometer of how good a goalkeeper is at simply keeping the ball out of the back of the net on any given shot. Premier League average generally sits around 69%, and even in a supposed down year, Howard still posted a very solid 70% (91 saves on 130 shots) in 2012-13.

Guzan posted a well-below league average 64.5% (118 saves on 183 shots), but the Aston Villa man gets at least some leeway for having a porous backline in front of him. The eyeball test would suggest that Villa was prone to defensive breakdowns and conceding shots in dangerous positions, and last year’s statistics help confirm this assertion.

Of Guzan’s 118 saves, 68% came from shots inside the box. In contrast, only 58% of Howard’s saves were from shots inside the box. Everton did a markedly better job of shielding Howard, and thus the New Jersey native benefitted from facing a far higher rate of less-threatening long range shots.

Even considering the relatively lower level of difficulty of his saves, it’s safe to say that Howard’s mark is still superior to Guzan’s. Howard has a deserved reputation as an excellent shot stopper, and last year’s performance only further confirmed that quality.

It is in other key areas, though, where Guzan shined and Howard faltered.

Consider their total saves parried to the opposition, which refers to the number of rebounds each goalkeeper spilled to opposing attackers. Though Guzan made almost 30 more saves than Howard (and faced comparatively more difficult shots), he actually allowed two fewer rebounds (23) than Howard (25).

A classic example of Howard’s struggles in this area came on the last day of the season, when Juan Mata was on hand to tap in a poor spill from Howard.

Howard’s most significant—as well as most visible and criticized—area of struggle last season was his goalkeeping errors. Only four Premier League keepers committed more errors than Howard’s six, and four of these led directly to goals. The poor performance last season could potentially be considered an outlier, but it becomes more worrying when viewed in context with Howard’s recent seasons.

Howard's Errors, by Season

In the last three years, Howard has averaged four errors per season, an alarmingly high total, especially considering in the two seasons before that he averaged just one error. Suddenly the two-error season of 2011-12 looks more like an outlier than last year’s six.

Also, given that Everton has had a formidable, shot-limiting defense for each of the past three years, it is even more concerning that Howard has made so many errors. Faced with a relatively low number of shots, he posted a dismal 21.7 shots faced per error last season.

On the other end of the spectrum is Guzan. He faced 53 more shots than Howard last season but made just two errors. This left him joint league best with Manchester United’s David de Gea, one of the EPL’s finest keepers.

More impressively still, Guzan delivered an incredible 91.5 shots faced per error, which is over four times greater than Howard’s mark (and well above de Gea’s 55 shots faced/error, too).

The final area of concern for Howard is his often shaky positioning and decision-making on balls played into the box. Guzan, on the other hand, has long been praised for his sound judgment in the area.

Admittedly this is a far more subjective category than the others, but it is worth noting.

Though not technically an error, Howard didn’t exactly cover himself in glory on this late Norwich City equalizer last November.

In a frustratingly similar goal this past June, Howard remained glued to his line as Jermaine Beckford nodded in to tie the Hexagonal contest at one in Kingston, Jamaica. Howard has Brad Evans and his stoppage-time winner to thank for deflecting attention away from his late mishap.

With the World Cup looming, Klinsmann may consider giving the more reliable (if less spectacular) Guzan a chance in the upcoming qualifiers. Nothing derails a World Cup campaign quicker than a goalkeeping howler (see Green, Rob), and Klinsmann will not wish to see all of his hard work undone by a Howard error or unclaimed cross in Brazil.

Still, Howard retains an advantage in pure shot stopping, which offsets some of the damage done by the weaker areas of his game.

This terrific second-half showing against Russia was just nine months ago, and it serves as a good reminder of why Howard is still the Yanks’ first choice option in net.

Klinsmann may feel Howard is better equipped to handle the similar onslaughts the U.S. may face from world-class opponents at the World Cup. Whether or not that compensates for the added risk of him allowing soft goals is up to Klinsmann to decide.

After a year in net for Aston Villa, though, Guzan is certainly no stranger to onslaughts himself. Plus, with the strides the U.S. has made in recent months, Klinsmann may feel that his side will be better equipped to face big opponents and may not have to worry about ever truly coming under siege in Brazil.

Obviously it’s a complex situation without an easy resolution for the Yanks’ boss.

Don’t doubt that Klinsmann will be following his two keepers’ every move once the Premier League begins this weekend. How they perform in England’s top flight will likely be a factor in determining who will start the opening match in Brazil 2014.

Should Guzan get a look in the upcoming qualifiers? Let us know what you think in the comments section.

Blake Thomsen is a freelance writer and ASN contributor. All statistics courtesy of Opta.

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