NEW YORK — Tim Howard remains the No. 1 American goalkeeper despite two strong games by Brad Guzan in World Cup qualifiers last month.
Howard, the starter since 2007, missed the snowy 1-0 win over Costa Rica and the 0-0 tie at Mexico after breaking two bones in his back while playing for Everton on Feb. 26. The 34-year-old returned to the English club’s lineup last Saturday.
Guzan, 28, took over as Aston Villa’s starting goalkeeper from Shay Given in September. He had not played in any qualifiers in four years.
“Tim is No. 1 undoubtedly,” U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said.
“It is just great to see Brad kind of breaking through and having the starter’s job now at Aston Villa,” Klinsmann added. “The level he played those two games just makes you feel a lot better now having such a strong No. 2.”
Klinsmann, U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati and former players marked the USSF’s 100th anniversary Friday by turning on the lights –red, white and blue– at the Empire State Building.
During a round-table discussion at Major League Soccer’s office, Klinsmann discussed his 20 months since taking over from Bob Bradley and talked about the need for American players to push their way onto bigger clubs in more competitive leagues.
He said the pressure on players in MLS is not the same as the stress they face in Europe. He cited Landon Donovan, who has played for the Los Angeles Galaxy since 2005 with only brief loans to Bayern Munich and Everton. Following a sabbatical of nearly four months, the 31-year-old midfielder hopes to rejoin the national team, and Klinsmann is monitoring Donovan’s progress.
Seeking its seventh consectuvie World Cup berth, the U.S. is 1-1-1 in the six-nation final round of qualifying in North and Central America and the Caribbean, which will send at least three teams to next year’s tournament in Brazil. Costa Rica complained bitterly about the conditions after the March 22 loss in a snowstorm at Commerce City, Colo.
Klinsmann says the game would have been a blowout in calmer conditions, with the U.S. likely scoring two or three goals.
“Obviously, second half you play on 3 inches of snow, it’s almost impossible to create real chances,” he said.
Defender Carlos Bocanegra, the primary U.S. captain since 2007, was dropped for the March matches because of a lack of playing time with Racing Santander, his club in the Spanish second division. When Bocanegra went the distance against Elche on Sunday, it marked his first playing time since Feb. 2.
“I will see where he’s at now in a couple weeks from now in terms of the May-June games,” Klinsmann said, looking toward exhibitions against Belgium and Germany, followed by qualifiers against Jamaica, Panama and Honduras. “I’ve always said we’re not closing the door on anybody.”
Before the 2-1 loss at Honduras in February, the Americans had played 16 consecutive qualifiers since 2008 with at least one 30-year-old defender in the starting lineup. Timmy Chandler (23), Omar Gonzalez (24), Fabian Johnson (25), Matt Besler (26) and Geoff Cameron (27) have gotten starts in the last three games, broadening a player pool that had become overly dependent on Bocanegra (33), Steve Cherundolo (34) and Clarence Goodson (30).
Injuries and scheduling have caused Klinsmann to use 25 different lineups in 25 games
“Obviously, you want to see the next generation breaking through,” Klinsmann said. “You want to give them the opportunities to jump in the cold water and swim because only in those moments you really can see if they are up to the task or not.”
Gulati cautioned that improvement isn’t a straight line, that there will be spurts and declines. Since reaching the World Cup quarterfinals in 2022 for its best showing since 1930, the Americans were knocked out in the first round in 2006 and the second round in 2010.
“At some point, we’re not going to qualify for a World Cup. I hope it’s a hundred years from now,” Gulati said. “It’s good that expectations have risen. But it’s not going to always be that we’re going to get one step further. It’s not realistic.”