It’s become a cliche, but in international soccer a year is pretty much an eternity. Consider this, a year ago USMNT Jurgen Klinsmann had two goalkeepers who were first choice keepers for Premier League teams. But today, Klinsmann has none.
It’s never exactly been clear who the United States number one keeper was over the past year. Tim Howard took a sabbatical from the team for a year following the 2014 World Cup. Upon his return, Klinsmann said Howard would battle with the man who filled in for him, Brad Guzan, to see who would be the number one goalkeeper going forward.
It was supposed to be a competition based on form, with their club performances factored in as the two would be splitting games with the national team. Of course that’s not what it turned into as by February neither player was starting for his team.
Howard had lost his spot at Everton when he told manager Roberto Martinez that he wanted to leave the club. Everton had to think about their future and therefore Howard was dropped to the bench. Guzan lost his place due to his own form, but with Aston Villa being terrible no matter who was in goal, he was able to regain his place in the starting XI, before being dropped again in the final month of the season.
Klinsmann never tipped his cap as to who his starter would be his number one keeper for the Copa America this summer. There were thoughts that Howard would get the nod since during the previous four World Cup Qualifiers Guzan had started the two home games, while Howard was given the ‘more difficult’ road assignments. However, at the end of the day Klinsmann chose Guzan, in part because he had gotten more consistent playing time for his club team in the second half of the season.
That won’t be the case anymore. On Friday newly promoted Premier League club Middlesborough announced the signing of Brad Guzan from Aston Villa.
— Middlesbrough FC (@Boro) July 29, 2016
While it’s great that Guzan is getting out of the Championship and right back into the Premier League, he won’t be seeing the field much. Earlier this summer Boro had already snatched up former Barcelona and Manchester United goalkeeper Victor Valdes, who will be the teams starter, leaving Guzan as cover should Valdes ever get hurt.
Howard on the other hand has left Everton and is now the first choice goalkeeper for the Colorado Rapids in the MLS. While he may be playing in an inferior league, he’ll be playing every week while Guzan rides the bench.
Does this mean that Howard now becomes the frontrunner to be Klinsmann’s number one goalkeeper for the USMNT again? That’s a much more complicated question.
Once Guzan was named the United States starter for the Copa America there were many who believed the tournament would be Howard’s final swan song with the US. Howard himself has said he has no interest in being a backup, when he joins up with the national team, his goal is to play.
Howard is 37 years old and while goalkeepers can routinely play into their 40s Howard has looked rusty in his two starts for the USMNT this season. That can easily be attributed to a lack of match sharpness, which won’t be a factor anymore, but the truth is even when Howard was Everton’s full time starter for the 2014-15 season he was never able to regain the form he showed for the United States at the 2014 World Cup.
It’s more than possible that Howard’s game has simply fallen a little with his age. That’s fine, but can Jurgen Klinsmann bench him for a goalkeeper that is sitting on the bench in England?
Enter the third option, 21-year-old Ethan Horvath.
Horvath was the United States’ third goalkeeper at the Copa America this summer and plays for the Norwegian club Molde FK. He’s been widely tipped as the next U.S. goalkeeper and all of a sudden it seems like the future could be a lot sooner than people realized.
If Howard’s game is slipping and Guzan is riding the bench, why not turn things over to Horvath now? At just 21 years old, Horvath is already in his second season as Molde’s first choice goalkeeper, playing in both their league matches as well as the Europa League.
A win over Trinidad & Tobago in the USMNT next World Cup Qualifying match would advance the U.S. to the next round with a game to spare. Why not let Horvath play in the match against St. Vincent and the Grenadines just to see what he’s got?
Whether or not Klinsmann gives Horvath a shot in the next year doesn’t matter too much. If Klinsmann chooses to go with Howard, Howard has earned a one-year look to see if he can get his game back up to the level it needs to be.The target US fans should be setting to see Horvath is next summer’s Gold Cup.
As next summer’s Gold Cup falls smack in the middle of World Cup qualifying, managers tend to bring their B squads comprised of fringe players and youngsters. In 2013, Brad Guzan shined for the U.S., and it’s entirely possible that Klinsmann will once again go with whomever of Howard or Guzan that wasn’t first choice during the year. But what Klinsmann should be doing is giving the tournament to Horvath.
If the U.S. is going to ride Howard through one more World Cup, then there’s no better time to get Horvath experience than next summer’s Gold Cup. Let him play an international tournament and gain experience so he’s ready to start a World Cup qualifying cycle with the US a few years later.
Jurgen Klinsmann has many options with what he can do with his goalkeepers over the next year. Right now the priority is still on qualifying for the World Cup, so you’d have to expect Klinsmann to lean towards the veterans. However, if Guzan isn’t playing, and Howard’s game is slipping, it may not be a bad idea to give Horvath a look sooner rather than later.