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Positional Ponderings

Future of U.S. Goalkeeping Remains in State of Flux

Behind the obvious top choices in the U.S. goalkeeping pool, inexperience reigns at a position in which Americans have always dominated. So who is next in line after Tim Howard and Brad Guzan?
BY Liviu Bird Posted
June 17, 2013
5:56 PM
SANDY, Utah—When United States head coach Jurgen Klinsmann released his roster for May and June, six goalkeepers were included on the list. Tally Hall, Bill Hamid, Sean Johnson, and Nick Rimando joined the usual suspects—Tim Howard and Brad Guzan.

The idea was that the younger, MLS-based players could come in and learn from European veterans Howard and Guzan, and Rimando, Klinsmann’s preferred No. 3 goalkeeper, could join the team for its final stint on the West Coast.

The same quartet is on the preliminary U.S. roster for the CONCACAF Gold Cup in July and August.

“They’re very talented goalkeepers,” Guzan told American Soccer Now before U.S. training on Monday at Rio Tinto Stadium. “They’re still young in a goalkeeping sense, so for them, it’s important the next few years that they take that next step to really try to push on.”

The stint of five matches in May and June, as well as the Gold Cup, would be a good moment for any of those goalkeepers to step in and try to cement their spot as a future U.S. No. 1. Howard and Guzan still have a many years left at the top of their games, but beyond them, nobody has made a positive statement of intent to this point.

Hamid and Johnson played for the U.S. in Olympic qualifying last year, but their play didn’t exactly inspire confidence in the future. Johnson’s gaffe on El Salvador’s tying goal eliminated the U.S. from qualifying for London, and the two rotated starts due to an injury to Hamid and inconsistent form on both parts.

Guzan said the many young American goalkeepers based domestically would benefit from playing overseas.

“That’s where you want to be. That’s the highest level,” the former Chivas USA goalkeeper said. “The MLS is still growing and becoming a better league, which is important, but at the same time, in England and in Europe, you’re playing against the best players in the world on a week-in, week-out basis. That’s only going to make you better, and the speed of play, the quality and the ability of the players is that much higher than MLS players.”

Another part of the problem is the legacy behind the younger players. For nearly two decades, only three players manned the nets for the U.S.: Tony Meola, Kasey Keller, and Brad Friedel. Development opportunities for others were limited, and they remain limited, with Howard commanding the vast majority of minutes at the position.

Without a storybook move from the New York/New Jersey MetroStars to Manchester United, Howard’s national team career may have never taken off. His career in England has exposed him to every on-field situation imaginable, and it has taught him how to turn the screws for an inexperienced American back line.

“Tim’s influence on that back line is tremendously important [with] his experience,” Klinsmann said at the U.S. soccer press conference on Monday. “To keep the dots connected, that is Tim’s work. … We are very happy to have Tim as our No. 1. He’s one of the top five—I always said that—in the world.”

Guzan’s recent ascent has him ready to seize any opportunity he gets. When Howard was left off the U.S. roster in March with injury, Guzan stepped in capably against Costa Rica in snowbound Denver. At Aston Villa, Guzan was his teammates’ choice for Player of the Year for his part in helping the club avoid relegation from the Premier League.

At 28, Guzan is Howard’s current heir apparent. But what happens next is anybody’s guess.

“You have to be open and ready for that battle of fighting for a No. 1 spot,” Guzan said. “You have to be able to push yourself and get better—and not only get better, but make sure you perform.”

To this point, nobody seems that ready to fight.

Liviu Bird is the Cascadia regional editor for SoccerWire.com, as well as an ASN contributor. Follow him on Twitter.

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