Rovers in safe hands

Brad Friedel kept 15 clean sheets in 2002-03 to make the English Premier League team of the year. That also came off the back of an outstanding World Cup in 2002 when the USA surprisingly reached the quarter-finals, writes Andy Hampson.

Brad Friedel, the former United States World Cup goalkeeper, is regarded as one of the most consistent performers in the Barclays English Premier League. He first came to England to join Liverpool in 1997 but it is at Rovers where he has established himself as one of the game’s best stoppers.

Friedel was raised in Lakewood, Ohio, and excelled as a sportsman throughout his high school and college years. He was a fine tennis player and a good prospect in basketball but soccer is where his true vocation lay. He started as a forward but was at home in goal and was outstanding while at UCLA from 1990-92, when he earned representative honours and was named top collegiate soccer player.

He was capped by the USA in 1992 and a professional career beckoned. He was keen on a move to England and Nottingham Forest was interested but he was unable to fulfil the work permit criteria. He signed a deal with the US Soccer Federation ahead of the 1994 World Cup but his struggles to find a professional club continued after that tournament. A move to Newcastle fell through and he eventually settled for a loan move to Danish side Brondby. He tried again to join an English club, Sunderland, in 1995 but failed, leading to a move to Turkish side Galatasaray, then managed by Graeme Souness.

After a short spell he returned to the US to play for Major League Soccer side Columbus Crew and after two productive years, a move to England finally materialised as Liverpool managed to secure a work permit on his behalf after a lengthy battle. It proved a frustrating move, however, as he failed to establish himself in the first team at Anfield.

After three disappointing years, he rejoined Souness as he moved to Blackburn, then outside the English Premier League, on a free transfer in 2000. It proved an inspired choice and Friedel has been Rovers’ number one goalkeeper since.

He is tall, strong and an excellent shot-stopper. His imposing performances helped Rovers to promotion and his star continued to rise once back in the top flight. There have been many memorable performances during his time at Ewood Park. He kept 15 clean sheets in 2002-03 to make the English Premier League team of the year. That also came off the back of an outstanding World Cup in 2002 when the USA surprisingly reached the quarter-finals.

He even scored a goal when he netted a late equaliser against Charlton in February 2004 but unfortunately for him the Addicks then scored an even later winner.

Friedel played at the 1992 Olympics and was in the squad for three World Cups in 1994, 1998 and 2002, the latter two as first choice. He retired from international football to concentrate on his career at Blackburn in 2005.

Friedel has indicated a desire to play on until the age of 40. He has not ruled out playing again in the US but says he and his family are settled in England. He is married to Tracy and they have two daughters, Izabella and Allegra.

Friedel’s battle to establish himself in England was one long struggle. His GBP1 million move to Liverpool finally looked the ticket but it merely proved the start of the hard work.

It was some time before manager Roy Evans gave him his chance and he failed to make the most of his opportunities at a time when Liverpool was looking for a reliable new goalkeeper. The struggles continued after Gerard Houllier took over as manager but the Liverpool connection eventually came good as former Reds boss, Souness, picked him up. Again he needed to acquire a work permit but this time it was less trouble.

Friedel currently drives to Blackburn’s training ground at Brockhall in a silver Porsche Cayenne S. The Cayenne is a superb 4x4 off-roader that boasts all the speed and power associated with Porsche. Top model cars such as the one Friedel owns can cost around GBP75,000.

Factfile Name: Brad Friedel Position: Goalkeeper Club: Blackburn DOB: 18/05/1971 USA caps: 82 USA goals: 0 USA debut: v Canada, September 1992 Moment to remember

Friedel has earned a reputation for saving penalties, not least from the 2002 World Cup when he kept out two during USA’s run to the last eight. Just to doubly prove the point, he saved two in one English Premier League match against Sheffield United to secure a 0-0 draw for Blackburn at Bramall Lane in September last year. David Unsworth and Rob Hulse were the men he denied.

Moment to forget

Friedel experienced one of his worst English Premier League afternoons last December as he conceded three goals in the last 10 minutes in a 6-2 defeat to Arsenal. Rovers had led at the Emirates and were battling hard at 3-2 until the wheels came off later on.

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