Starting goalkeeper has always been a strength of the United States’ national team.
Ever since the days of Kasey Keller, the American keeper who somehow made his way to England in the early 1990s, the USMNT has always been regarded as a hotbed for goalkeeping talent.
From Keller, it became Brad Friedel, the man with 310 consecutive Premier League appearances across stretches with Blackburn Rovers, Aston Villa, and Tottenham Hotspur. After Friedel, it was Tim Howard, who made his career with Everton, but is perhaps best known for his heroic performance against Belgium in the 2014 World Cup.
With Howard’s career winding down after his move from Everton to Colorado Rapids in May, a move that seems to be the norm for aging national teamers these days, it was expected that Brad Guzan would take over for Howard, whose skills are obviously dwindling.
For a while, it seemed like this would go exactly according to plan. Howard would hand off the reins to Guzan the same way he got them from Friedel. After all, Guzan was a starting Premier League goalkeeper with Aston Villa and perfectly suited to take over for his aging teammate.
Guzan showcased his readiness by earning the starting goalkeeper spot in the 2015 Gold Cup. Despite a poor performance from the USMNT as a whole, Guzan was actually very good, and showed he belonged as the national team starter.
Then, disaster struck. Not only did Aston Villa get relegated in the Premier League, but they gave up the most goals of any side in the league. Guzan’s confidence was crushed, and rumors that he might not be able to find a starting job in the EPL following the drop began to circulate.
Nonetheless, Klinsmann announced Guzan as the starter for the 2016 Copa America, and he once again performed admirably for the national team. However, his club situation would get even more uncertain.
Guzan was sent on a free transfer from Aston Villa to Middlesbrough after the recently fallen Villa side could no longer afford his wages. At Boro, Guzan was informed that he would be splitting time with newly arrived transfer Victor Valdes, with Valdes getting the majority of the starts.
Meanwhile, Tim Howard arrived in Colorado, owners of the best defensive record in the MLS. As a designated player, Howard receives the lion’s share of starts, and has given up just 11 goals in nine games with Colorado.
So, which of these men should get the start for the national team?
While both saw action in this round of World Cup qualifiers, it seemed pretty obvious that Howard is still the superior keeper. Neither man was seriously tested against St. Vincent and the Grenadines, nor Trinidad and Tobago, but Howard did have one especially impressive save in the second half of the Trinidad game. Additionally, he is the man starting more regularly, and clearly still has the motivation to play for the national team. As long as he can continue at this level, he should be the clear first choice.
The line of succession has long been painted for the USMNT, but it appears now that it’s time to throw a small wrench in that cycle. Guzan is certainly a great goalkeeper, and at 31, he is young enough that he will one day get his chance with the USMNT. However, and perhaps it’s a testament to his all-time greatness, at 38, Howard is undeniably better at almost every facet of goalkeeping for the national team. He should undeniably remain the starter for the time being, at least until his skills diminish or Guzan overtakes him.