One of the most pressing questions heading into Friday’s first qualifying match for the 2018 World Cup is who will be in goal for the United States against St. Vincent and the Grenadines?
Will it be Tim Howard, the 2014 World Cup hero who made a tournament-record 16 saves in the second-round loss to Belgium? Or will it be Brad Guzan, who filled in during Howard’s year-long sabbatical and has played 11 matches for the U.S. team in 2015?
Both keepers were battling it out in the South Florida heat Tuesday morning as the team trained at Barry University before heading to St. Louis on Wednesday for Friday’s match. They said they had no idea who would get the starting nod from coach Jurgen Klinsmann, but they welcome the competition.
“It’s part of being a goalkeeper, whether it’s with the national team or at your club team, every goalkeeper at a club is competing for one spot on the field,” said Guzan. “It comes with the position, comes with the territory and you get used to it. You need to have competition. You need to be pushing each other because I think when you do that, you get the best out of each other.”
Guzan, who plays for Aston Villa in the English Premier League, is coming off a clean sheet against Manchester City, a 0-0 match that ended a six-game skid for last-place Aston Villa.
Howard also enters the international break after a tie, 1-1 with West Ham. Everton is in ninth place in the standings.
“No idea,” Howard replied, when asked if he had a hunch who will start Friday. “Nothing’s changed for me or for Brad. We come in and try and do our best in between with our clubs. Jurgen will make his decisions based on a number of different factors. It’s not something I lose sleep over.”
Howard, 36, has played in the EPL since joining Manchester United in 2003 and has 105 appearances for the national team. Guzan, 31, joined Aston Villa in 2008, and has played 40 times for the United States.
After the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, Howard took a year off from the national team to spend more time with his family. He returned in September, backed up Guzan in friendly matches against Peru and Brazil, and Guzan also started a 3-2 loss to Mexico that cost the United States a spot in the 2017 Confederations Cup.
Howard got the start last month in a 1-0 friendly loss to Costa Rica. Afterward, Klinsmann said he may not settle on a keeper anytime soon.
“Going forward, they will probably rotate,” Klinsmann said. “We have two exceptional, international-caliber goalkeepers, and we need both of them on board. That’s what I told them.
“I cannot afford to lose one of them because he’s not playing his games or he gets frustrated. They are two outstanding characters. They are givers, both of them. They respect each other. They help each other. Whoever is in the backup role pushes the one that starts, and so on. So our job is to keep both with us for the upcoming years.”