Tim Howard established himself as the United States number one right after World Cup 2006. While Kasey Keller was still in the US mix at the time, Howard was named the starter by Bob Bradley, then the interim Head Coach, a place he has retained since.
Howard has generally been good for the United States though he has come under some criticism through the years. In particular, Howard has been blamed for positioning on a few critical goals in US games, but in fairness every goalkeeper has had goals they conceded that left critics scratching their heads. Even Iker Casillas, Gigi Buffon and Petr Cech fall into this category at the international level.
Beginning in 2007, Brad Guzan was given games by Bob Bradley to establish himself as a reliable backup. Guzan performed erratically in a US shirt at first in a number of friendlies, and then after a move to Aston Villa in 2008 he stopped playing altogether at the club level except in Cup matches. At the same time, Howard was playing in every league match for Everton when fit.
The lack of competition at club and national team level some believe led to a level of complacency for Howard. At Everton in particular, the American keeper began to make odd errors. Not only did Howard make the positioning errors in open play every keeper makes from time to time, but he began committing howlers from open play and finding himself wanting on several set pieces. After a late-game howler last season against Norwich that cost Everton a point, David Moyes indicated he needed another keeper to push Howard. It was the latest in a string of blunders that had many questioning Howard’s quality.
At the very same time, after sitting four seasons on the bench or on unsuccessful loan spells, Brad Guzan was finally starting at Aston Villa and creating quite a positive impression. Villa spent the entire 2012-13 season fighting relegation but Guzan was a standout and many believe without his contributions, the Midlands-based club would have gone down.
Howard continued to be solid for the United States but when Guzan got his chance in two critical qualifiers in the spring due to a Howard injury, Guzan kept two clean sheets. Since then Howard has reclaimed his spot but was criticized for soft goalkeeping in two friendlies in June though his qualifying form has been excellent.
This summer David Moyes left for Manchester United while new Everton manager Roberto Martinez brought Joel Robles in to compete with Howard for the number one keeper spot. Howard held him and has played well thus far this season. However, Guzan has once again been among the top five keepers in the Premier League and his form, which has now been excellent for over a year, has some believing US manager Jürgen Klinsmann should transition to Guzan before the 2014 World Cup.
One factor not considered is Howard’s leadership, which I am told is critical for the national team. No question exists right now that Guzan is the better keeper at the Premier League level, but Howard may remain the better fit for the United States.
Guzan will get another shot in goal tonight against Panama in the final World Cup Qualifier. The United States have already clinched first-place in the Hexagonal and are unlikely to get a World Cup seed. Panama has everything to play for so it will be fascinating to see what happens tonight for Guzan.
Klinsmann has a situation very few international managers have, which is multiple quality options between the pipes. It is a good problem to have.