With Brad Guzan’s transfer to newly minted MLS franchise Atlanta United complete, an era of the Premier League, nearly as long as the league’s existence itself, has come to an end. I’m talking of course, of the tradition of American goalkeepers with no hair on their heads, manning the posts for one of its clubs. Bald Yankee keepers have played a leading role in the Premier League going back to 1996 when Kasey Keller became the number one at Leicester City.
Brad Friedel, Marcus Hahnemann, Tim Howard, and Guzan followed over the years, and while not many outfield players took up spots in England’s highest division, the swarm of U.S. goalkeepers gave American soccer fans a reason to take up a rooting interest in the Premier League. And fans would notice one trait shared between these defenders of the goal… none of them had hair!
Now that’s a little bit of a misnomer. Kasey Keller started his time in the Premiership with Leicester with a mostly full, albeit rapidly receding head of hair, but quickly became the shiny-headed hero most U.S. fans will remember from his starting job in the 2006 World Cup, once making his move to Tottenham Hotspur in 2001. Friedel, Hahnemann, Howard, and Guzan all sported chrome domes from the get-go and so a tradition that spanned 16 seasons was born, with at least one bald, American keeper playing a match for a Premier League side.
The golden age was the 2007-08 campaign when four keepers combined to play in 125 of their club’s matches: Keller for Fulham, Friedel with Blackburn Rovers, Howard for Everton, and Hahnemann with Reading. That year saw Friedel and Hahnemann play in all 38 Premier League contests for their teams, while Howard saw action in all but two of Everton’s. Keller was brought in as a back-up at Craven Cottage but after dealing with an injury, took over the starting job for the final 10 games and earned points in seven of them, as Fulham miraculously avoided relegation at the expense of Hahnemann’s Reading side.
Friedel won plaudits for his longevity, setting a Premier League record of 310 straight appearances between 2004 and 2012 and becoming the league’s fourth-oldest player. He also helped guide the development of fellow “Brad” when Guzan joined him at Aston Villa in 2008. Keller had a similarly lengthy career. Along with Juergen Sommer, he proved that American “soccer” players could cut it in English football in the early 1990s, paving the way for future U.S. keepers. Howard has become perhaps the best known after his high-profile move from MLS to Manchester United before spending ten year’s as the number one at Everton, which coincided with his World Cup heroics and an increased American interest in the Premier League.
It’s sad to see this wonderfully quirky era reach its conclusion. Howard followed in Keller’s shoes and made his way back to MLS before this past season, signing with the Colorado Rapids. Guzan has also chosen to make his return to American shores following back-to-back disappointing relegations with Aston Villa and Middlesbrough.
There appeared to be others in the pipeline ready to take up the mantel. Thinly haired Cody Cropper spent three seasons developing at Southampton, and manned the posts for MK Dons in the next level down, before returning to MLS with the New England Revolution this year. Similarly, Charlie Horton (who while not bald, could have shaved his head eventually) spent time in the Championship with Leeds United before opting for a move to D.C. United. And so the age of bald goalkeeping bad-assery ends not with a Premier League winners medal, but on the back of a 3-0 shellacking for the ‘Boro at Anfield.
Let this be a lesson to you would-be goalkeepers. If you want to eventually make it across the pond to the world of English football, bust out those clippers and lop those follicles off right now. And it doesn’t hurt if your name happens to be Brad.