Jurgen Klinsmann has laid the first hint that Tim Howard has already eclipsed Brad Guzan on the USMNT’s depth chart in goal. Speaking at his pre-match press conference Thursday, prior to the U.S.’ World Cup qualifier vs. St. Vincent and the Grenadines on Friday, Klinsmann announced that if all went according to plan Brad Guzan would start the match against St. Vincent and Tim Howard would start Tuesday’s match against Trinidad and Tobago.
Howard had taken a sabbatical from U.S. Soccer following the 2014 World Cup until this past September to be able to spend more time with his family. Unlike the sabbatical of Landon Donovan, Howard spoke it over with Klinsmann and announced he would fight to regain his place once he returned to the team. In his absence Guzan inherited the No. 1 shirt for the U.S., playing in most of the games during the 2014/15 year.
Following the CONCACAF Cup match in October, Klinsmann announced that he would rotate the two keepers until he officially declared a No. 1 for the 2016 Copa America Centenario in June.
None of this comes as a surprise to anyone. Klinsmann, Guzan, and Howard are all saying and doing exactly what they should be saying and doing. There’s no question who the better goalkeeper is but as Klinsmann said when Howard left the team, he was giving up his spot and when he returned he would have to fight to earn it back. One month isn’t enough time to have a ‘fair’ competition, so Klinsmann will have to let this charade keep going long enough to make it seem like it was an actual competition.
The schedule is also rather fortuitous for Klinsmann. Of the United States’ two upcoming qualifiers, the away match to T&T is the far more difficult of the two and is the one you would like to have your strongest goalkeeper playing in. Lucky for Klinsmann the match against St. Vincent and the Grenadines comes first allowing him to play his ‘incumbent’ goalkeeper first and his stronger one second.
If all goes according to plan, Klinsmann should be able to keep rotating his goalkeepers throughout qualifying without it coming back to bite him. Guzan is more than capable of holding his own against CONCACAF opposition, but that doesn’t change how flawed the plan is.
Between now and the Copa America Centenario the United States will play four World Cup qualifiers, the upcoming two this month and two more in March. That would be just two matches apiece for Howard and Guzan before the team gets together in June, where they will likely play one or two pre-tournament friendlies, but by then Klinsmann should have already made up his mind. (It should be noted the U.S. will hold their usual January camp, but neither Howard nor Guzan will be there since they both play in the Premier League.)
At the end of the day it looks like this ‘competition’ will last over all of four international matches and also factor in each players form with their club, where Howard likely also has the edge. For the immediate future, Howard has been given the tougher assignment. Come next June, expect to see Howard back between the posts wearing the No. 1 shirt once again for the United States.