Tim Howard started for Everton Tuesday because he always starts for Everton, this time in a 1-1 draw at Stoke City. He is almost certain for lineup selection in the Toffees’ final two English Premier League matches and will arrive at U.S. training camp in two weeks as the No. 1 goalkeeper — a role he has maintained for five years.
But let’s get all hypothetical for a moment.
What if Howard suffers an impactful injury ahead of, or during, the U.S. team’s three friendlies and two World Cup qualifiers between May 26 and June 12?
Goalkeeping has always been of little concern to American soccer. FromTony Meola to Juergen Sommer, from Kasey Keller to Brad Friedel, from Marcus Hahnemann to Howard, the United States has produced a steady stable of internationally seasoned keepers for major competition.
But as we reach the midway point of the next World Cup cycle, leading to the 2014 tournament in Brazil, the American goalkeeping corps is not as deep as it once was.
Howard, 33, has been the USA’s top choice since 2007, and judging by his consistent form in the EPL with Everton for six seasons, he is the most capable choice for the qualifiers and beyond. Assuming he starts against Wolverhampton on Saturday and Newcastle the following Sunday, Howard will have played every league match over four years (152 assignments).
Keepers don’t often suffer injuries, so for all practical purposes, Juergen Klinsmann won’t have to turn to a replacement. But what if.....
Let’s look at the other options:
*At Aston Villa, Brad Guzan, 27, remains second choice to Ireland’s Shay Given and has made six EPL starts this season. His last appearance was Jan. 7 against Chelsea in the FA Cup. Unable to secure playing time in 2010-11, Guzan was loaned to Hull City and started regularly. With the U.S. team, he hasn’t made an appearance since November 2010 at South Africa. He did back up Howard for the friendly at Italy this year. Clearly, he is Klinsmann’s second choice among the foreign legion, but the lack of first-team matches can’t be ignored.
*Marcus Hahnemann is still active, serving as the No. 2 or 3 at Everton, but he will turn 40 in June and is nearing the end of an accomplished career.
*The other keepers employed abroad don’t play: Celtic’s Dom Cervi, Bayer Leverkusen’s David Yelldell, Evian’s Quentin Westberg, Karlsruhe’s Luis Robles and Tachira’s Diego Restrepo. (Brad Friedel starts for Spurs but retired from the international game eight years ago.)
*The two under-23 keepers, Bill Hamid and Sean Johnson, didn’t distinguish themselves during the failed Olympic qualifying campaign and don’t seem to be in the running for a senior call-up this summer.
*In MLS, one name stands out in terms of performance, experience and familiarity with the national team program: Nick Rimando, in his sixth season as Real Salt Lake’s starter. Inevitably, fans will suggest other domestic-based keepers, but at this point, Klinsmann isn’t going to introduce new candidates.
As he said in his Q&A on the USSF Web site Monday, “You do not risk bringing in players you think need more time to develop. It’s not an introduction camp for players. It’s not a time period where you try things out.”
What can we conclude? Howard, Guzan and Rimando. Which should put everyone at ease and allow for more critical evaluation of the field positions ahead of Klinsmann’s roster decisions in two weeks.
Unless, of course, Howard gets hurt. And in the unlikelihood that occurs, scrutiny of a rock-solid area will inevitably ramp up.
Your thoughts on the American goalkeepers are welcome in our comments section.