USA – @forbze
It’s that time again. The world cup. The competition that captures the imagination of every red blooded sports fan around the world. This year’s competition travels to Brazil, where football is seen more than a game, it is studied, lived and breathed, it is a religion, worshiped by every young boy. Football in this country gives hope to many of the locals, some whom see the game as an opportunity to lift themselves out of the favelas and into the starlight. Not every nation has this passion for the game, in my homeland Australia, football is down the pecking order – with many young athletes choosing Australian Football, Cricket, or Rugby before Football. Another nation where the game experiences the same issue is the USA, where NFL, Baseball, Ice Hockey, Basketball all take their share of the talent pool before football. Football however is now closing in on the native sports.
The growth of the MLS, as well as hosting the cup themselves in 1994 has lifted the popularity and interest in the world game, and America’s continued successful qualification for every cup since 1990 has seen a larger group of talented footballers become available for the USMNT. Like Australia, the US has always managed to produce a steady stream of talented goalkeepers – a role that is perhaps influenced by the number of other sports requiring the use of hand – eye co-ordination played at a young age.
Keepers such as Kasey Keller, Brad Friedel, and Tim Howard are well known around the world through their play in european leagues, however America has also produced a long list of talented keepers who have plied their trade in the MLS, such as Sean Johnson, Bill Hamid, Joe Cannon, Zach Thornton, Nick Rimando, and Marcus Hahnemann who have all experienced international call ups in recent history. Additionally who could forget Tony Meola, the keeper who had a successful career protecting the goal for the 1990 and 1994 world cups. Tony is notably remembered for leaving the game after the loss to Brazil in the 1994 world cup, informing the coach he was taking up a career as an NFL placekicker. He was unsuccessful and rejoined football in 1996 with the NY/NJ Metrostars (now Red Bull).
The world cup in 2010 produced mixed results for the US team, drawing 1-1 with England, and 2-2 with Slovenia. A stoppage time goal saw them beat Algeria 1-0, but ensure the US team finished first in their group for the first time since 1930. The US were knocked out of the cup in the next round – losing the Ghana 2-1. A slow start to qualification for Brazil 2014 saw Bob Bradley fired as duties as coach, and a new era of football was to commence under the watch of German legend Jürgen Klinsmann. A rapid turn around in results saw the US go on to win 12 games in a row, and Qualification for 2014 was secured on September 10th after beating Mexico. This year’s cup sees the US drawn in a tough group alongside one of the favourites Germany, Portugal and Ghana.
Klinsmann has rotated his keepers regularly during friendlies and qualification games in the last 12 months, utilising Everton’s Tim Howard, Aston Villa’s Brad Guzan, and Real Salt Lake’s Nick Rimando as the primary keeper. More recently Klinsmann has also called up MLS youngsters Sean Johnson (24) and Bill Hamid (23) who are both considered to have bright futures. Klinsmann’s stock doesn’t stop there, with Southampton’s Cody Cropper also a fringe player after his recent call up to the squad for the match against Ukraine in February, as well as Tally Hall – who was also been called up for the squad in 2013.
So who does Klinsmann take to the world cup with so many keepers available for selection? There’s little doubt around the three goalkeepers selections for Klinsmann, but with Tim Howard reaching 35, Nick Rimando – 34, and Brad Guzan – 30, I predict that Klinsmann will also keep an eye on the future and likely include young Sean Johnson in the camp incase of injury. Johnson was used during the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup as back up to Nick Rimando, however his performance in the final game against Costa Rica has shown he is more than capable for the next level.
When Klinsmann names his squad, you would expect one of the first names on his list will be Tim Howard. Tim’s performances in the EPL for Everton since joining in 2006 have seen him rack up close to 300 games for the Liverpudlian club, and the club has so much faith in him to continue his performances at a high standard, that they have recently awarded him with a 4 year extension to his contract all the way until 2018. Brazil 2014 will be Tim’s third World cup, previously travelling to the 2006 and 2010 world cup, racking up over 90 caps in his career.
Tim has a reputation for playing through the pain barrier, in September 2007 he dislocated his finger 60 minutes into the game during a friendly against Brazil, playing on until final whistle. This isn’t the only time he’s played on after breaking a bone – in a game against Oldham Athletic in the FA Cup he broke two bones in his back, but saw out the game.
Tim’s strengths lie in athletic saves, especially from long range shots somehow making saves that many other keepers would struggle with. His weakness however, is that he can sometimes be indecisive, coming off his line for balls he has no chance in making. On boxing day he was sent off in a club game after playing short from a goal kick to a defender under pressure. The defender lost the ball and Tim brought down the sunderland striker in the box. In February during a game against Chelsea he deflected the ball into his own net off a free kick into the box which cost his team the game. In this instance he could have handled the situation better and perhaps highlights a bigger issue of deflecting the ball at times he should be able to catch cleanly.
That all being said his experience and regular starts in the EPL will see Tim be Klinsmann’s first pick for the game against Ghana on the 16th of June.
The next name to go on Klinsmann’s list will be Aston Villa’s Brad Guzan. Guzan is normally the back up to Howard – however, whenever Howard has missed games due to injury he has been a worthy replacement and has produced several outstanding performances of his own.
Guzan has had a interesting club career breaking into the squad at Chivas USA, followed by a move to Aston Villa in 2008. His first stint at Villa saw him mostly play backup to fellow countryman Brad Friedel, however, since returning to the club in 2011 after a short loan out to Hull City, he has pushed hard for the number 1 spot at the midlands club, and since then has cemented himself as first choice for the last 2 seasons. Brad famously made headlines branding Luis Suarez a cheat after he seemingly went to ground easily after a save attempt.
Guzan managed to force his way into the squad at Villa after out performing Shay Given. His consistency is somewhat credited to that, which I believe is one of Guzan’s main strengths. It’s hard to pick a weakness, however, his lack of experience at international level against world class opposition may hold him back.
Nick Rimando will round out the squad keepers for the USMNT at the World Cup. Rimando was late to get his first cap with the national team and has always been used as a backup to Howard and Guzan, however he recently gained starting exposure during the gold cup. Due to his age – He is unlikely to ever play as the first choice keeper for the USMNT and will always play as back up. Rimando is known for sometimes having an unusual technique, however has proven him self consistently at MLS level.
Rimando’s strengths lie in his remarkable ability to make reflex saves from short distances. He is also very strong from set pieces, regularly punching clear the ball from corners and free kicks. Nick’s weakness again lies in his limited exposure at the top level. Outside of his recent performances in the gold cup, he has very limited experience at international level.
Klinsmann’s choice should already be made for the cup, and a late injury to Tim Howard withholding, he will be the number one choice for the world cup. With arguably the group of death ahead of them the USMNT goalkeeper position will have a lot of focus, but thankfully the US are blessed with a long list of talent both in their prime, and upcoming shotstoppers which will see them excel into the near future. I look forward to seeing how they perform and which of the MLS keepers Klinsmann also includes as a backup. Who would you chose?