Now, 15 years later, the New Jersey native has the eighth most appearances (119), second-most shutouts (41), and the most wins of anyone to put on a Red, White & Blue jersey. Howard will go down as one of the best players in USMNT history. But, now 38 years old, Howard’s time as the number one ‘keeper should come to an end if you ask me.
Just three short years ago, in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, Howard was arguably the best active U.S. player. Since then, much has changed. Sure, he took a temporary break from international soccer, but given everything he has done, he deserved one. He also went from a top seven team in the English Premier League, Everton, to one of the worst teams in MLS, Colorado. However, given the lack of playing time he was getting across the pond, this was also a good move.
What Howard has going against him is that he no longer changes the game. In Brazil, Howard’s 16-save performance will be remember forever (see a reminder below). While he is not a bad option in net, he does not have the same effect anymore.
The reason Howard could make those saves is because his agility is second to none. While not always in the best position, Howard makes up for it in his quick, cat-like reflexes. In addition, he has a command of the box that few ‘keepers have.
But as Howard gets older his reflexes have started to fail him, and his positioning is more important than ever. Instead of making amazing point blank saves, Howard falls back and guesses on many shots. Sometimes he gets a foot or glove on it, but more often then not he guesses wrong and allows a goal.
The biggest issue with not starting Howard is who will replace him? Four names jump to the top of the list, but the battle should really be between just two. Brad Guzan and Nick Rimando are two veteran goalkeepers that Bruce Arena could call on. They have 80 caps between them and are leaders on the team, however Guzan and Rimando will not replace Howard.
Rimando and Guzan have been part of the national team setup since 2002 and 2006, respectively, and through that time have become veteran backups. Not to take this role lightly, having a solid backup is always a need, and, when training behind an all-time great, that backup will pick up a thing or two.
The two players that should be in the discussion for the starting U.S. goalkeeper spot are Bill Hamid and Luis Robles. The six caps between is not encouraging, but their play in MLS has been fantastic.
Robles, now 33 years old, has been one of the best ‘keepers in MLS for the past few seasons. Since becoming a starter in 2013, the Red Bulls’ goalkeeper was runner-up in 2016 for the MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, the winner in 2015, and fourth in 2013.
Hamid has declined some since his 2014 Goalkeeper of the Year award, but at just 26 Hamid still has plenty of time to continue to grow.
Both Robles and Hamid have a higher upside then Howard right now, and Arena should look in their direction for the next qualifiers.