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Rookie Guzan Becomes a Keeper for Chivas USA

Play of 20-year-old who replaced injured veteran Zuniga, the projected starter, has improved significantly after a rather rough start.

May 14, 2005|Paul Gutierrez | Times Staff Writer

Brad Guzan, Chivas USA's 20-year-old rookie goalkeeper, is playing the best soccer of his young professional life.

Martin Zuniga, 34, the team's veteran and projected starting goalkeeper who was injured in preseason, will play for the first time since then in a Reserve League match this weekend.

The significance is not lost on Coach Thomas Rongen.

"Competition is healthy," Rongen said Friday before the team left for Denver for tonight's match against the Colorado Rapids.

"It's good and it drives certain players to make progress. Let them fight it out."

The original plan was to have the 5-foot-9, 165-pound Zuniga start for the Major League Soccer expansion franchise and slowly groom the 6-3, 209-pound Guzan, who left South Carolina after his sophomore year and was selected by Chivas USA with its first pick in the SuperDraft.

That all changed when Zuniga, known as el Pulpo -- the Octopus -- suffered a sprained knee in a 7-0 exhibition loss to the U.S. national team March 2.

Guzan stepped between the pipes and his baptism of fire began.

Seemingly shy to leave his feet, the shell-shocked Guzan was pelted with shot after shot and in his first 302 minutes surrendered 11 goals, on counterattacks as well as set pieces.

Then he went acrobatic. Guzan, who was beginning to feel the fans' wrath, suddenly became a fan favorite. He has given up only one goal in his last 238 minutes and earned his first shutout in Chivas' 1-0 victory over fellow expansion club Real Salt Lake last Saturday.

Spanish-speaking fans have started referring to him proudly as el Gusano -- the Worm.

"I knew coming in, leaving school early, that I can do this," said Guzan, whose 30 saves rank second among MLS goalkeepers. "That [mentality] has just continued through practice."

And it is now appearing in games.

*

Rongen said he would stick with the lineup that produced Chivas' first win and had veteran midfielder Ramon Ramirez as playmaker.

"My role is to be a complete player," Ramirez said. "If they need me to attack ... "

TONIGHT

at Colorado, 6 p.m. PDT

Channel 54 (delayed, Sunday 11 a.m.)

Site -- Invesco Field.

Radio -- 930.

Records -- Chivas USA 1-4-1, Colorado 1-4-1.

Record vs. Colorado -- first meeting.

Update -- The Rapids, who will be without suspended midfielder Pablo Mastroeni for a second consecutive game, are sure to be in a foul mood after losing to the Galaxy on an injury-time penalty kick. The Home Depot Center Stadium Club will show the match on television free of charge. Chivas midfielder Francisco Gomez, who suffered sprains to his left knee and ankle in the season opener April 2, will play in Sunday's Reserve League match.

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