Since Bruce Arena took over as U.S. Men’s National Team manager, there hasn’t been a clear cut No. 1 goalkeeper. Instead, it’s been a partnership, one which has seen Tim Howard and Brad Guzan split time and compete with one another for minutes throughout the Hexagonal.
Heading into the final games of the Hexagonal, that competition is still going on.
Just days before the USMNT faces Panama, Arena said he expects to announce his goalkeeping decision on Thursday. It remains to be seen if Friday’s starter is recognized as the de facto No. 1 or if Arena is looking to see the two split games like they have during each of the past few international breaks.
“It’s a different voice,” captain Michael Bradley said of the two. “When you look closely, they have different qualities and characteristics but nothing changes. Both Timmy and Brad are so important for our team both on and off the field and they have a great relationship, which shines through. The way that they’re able to compete and push each other and still be best of friends is something that, again, is so important for or group.
“They’re both competitors. They both want to play but it’s all about the team for both of them.”
While both goalkeepers have shown a desire to sacrifice for the good of the team, they’ve both also shown ups and downs that merit consideration.
It was Howard that got the start against Costa Rica in September in what was admittedly a less-than vintage performance. The first goal conceded to Los Ticos was one Howard certainly expects to save while the Colorado Rapids’ shot-stopper’s position on the second left plenty to be desired.
Still, Howard has done well for the Rapids in recent weeks and has continued to be a strong goalkeeper following his move to MLS. His experience and communication remain a massive asset, especially in a must-win match where defensive mistakes could prove costly.
Guzan, meanwhile, has also shown well since finalizing his own MLS move this summer. Since joining Atlanta United, Guzan has started 12 matches while earning seven shutouts. He looked better than Howard did last time out when it came to shot-stopping, even if his distribution wasn’t always there.
With two games remaining, Arena could very well opt to split them up again. Howard started the home match against Costa Rica while Guzan has generally taken the road games. The situation is there, and it limits the wear and tear on the aging Howard if he only has to play one game in four games.
But, eventually, a decision will need to come. The World Cup is just months away and, if the U.S. can get there, Arena will need to figure out a way to manage the goalkeeper position. Whichever way he opts to go both in the short and long-term, the U.S. will look to rely on a veteran starter in net to lead the way.
“They’re great communicators to me,” added Paul Arriola. “I’ve never really had a goalie that can express himself and help the team with his voice, and obviously I haven’t gone through it all and have only been a professional for four years, but those guys are amazing guys. When you need saves, they make saves. For me, it doesn’t matter too much.”