The steady singularity that has stewarded the area for the United States Men’s National Team for the last few years is about to be disrupted.
The Guardian reported today that Tim Howard suffered two bone fractures in his back while manning the goal for Everton F.C. during a recent FA Cup match against Oldham. This injury obviously hurts his club the Toffees, but it also puts his country in an awkward position.
Aside from January Friendlies, Howard has typically been a clear choice as the #1 keeper for the US. Many of his understudies have changed over the years – from Keller to Hahnemann to Guzan to Hamid and a few others. Under current coach Jurgen Klinsmann, Howard has started every match of significance without even a hint of evaluating options in meaningless friendlies (besides the Camp Cupcake matches in January).
The knee-jerk reaction would be to panic, but realistically the options Klinsmann has are pretty solid. Brad Guzan has done everything he can to help his relegation threatened club Aston Villa, and theoretically he has been on a big stage. He took the field in a 3-0 victory over Egypt in the 2009 Confederations Cup. So at this point, one would have to think that he is the odds-on favorite to man the pipes for the Costa Rica and Mexico matches (if not longer should Howard’s recovery be lengthy).
Of course the name Brad Friedel gets brought up in situations like these, and he remains a fine keeper into his 40’s. But if I were in Klinsmann’s shoes, it’s time to let Guzan prove his value. You never know what could happen down the road, and if you need a keeper to step in for the 2014 World Cup, why not give Guzan the experience of two pressure-packed matches to show his stuff? Can you count on Friedel to still be donning the gloves next season and beyond?
The way I see it, the away match to Mexico is at best a draw, and probably a loss. This is the best time to live or die by Guzan’s sword. Give Guzan the start against Costa Rica, but I’d consider using a guy like Carlos Bocanegra to pair with Omar Gonzalez in the backline. This would give Guzan an experienced line organizer in front of him, and take some of the pressure off. This might also help Gonzalez in the process, to be shepherded by such a noble captain as Bocanegra.
If I were Klinsmann, I’d bring in Guzan and Nick Rimando to the March squad, with Bill Hamid as the emergency option. I’d only call on Rimando should there be a major issue against Costa Rica, i.e. the rare circumstance that Guzan would crumble.
I think we should look at Howard’s injury with some sadness for the fine American keeper, but also consider it a golden opportunity to nail down that important backup option. Brad Guzan has paid his dues, and it’s time for him to become America’s next quality netminder.