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Tim Howard and the future of US goalkeepers

The 22-year-old Jesse Gonzalez has great potential, but is still pretty young and unproven.

At his advanced athlete age of 38, it is quite amazing to still see Tim Howard performing at the high level he is. Against Venezuela in US national team’s friendly match, Howard was still marvelous. The rest of the team had lackluster performance, but Howard stood out and kept the team in the game that ended up being a 1-1 draw.

Howard at one time was one of the very elite goalkeepers in the world, starring for Everton and being the real driving force behind the US men’s soccer team getting to the knockout round of the FIFA World Cup in both 2010 and 2014. And now he looks like he will still be the man in the goal in 2018.

Father time will eventually catch up to him, and every month that goes by makes it increasingly more likely that he will start to experience a significant drop off in his play. However, being a goalkeeper allows Howard to prolong that drop-off. Some weren’t even sure they could expect him to be the goalkeeper for the Yanks for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil when the 2010 World Cup ended, but he has proven his longevity.

Obviously, goalkeeper is a position that relies on athleticism, pace and endurance much less than the other positions on the soccer pitch. Instead, playing the position is helped by things that come with experience. His time at Everton gave Howard first-hand experience in just about every situation imaginable against the most elite players in the world. He has veteran instincts and play recognitione that young goalkeepers just do not have and his reaction time is still quick.

If US Soccer feels Jesse Gonzalez is their future in goal, that is fine, but a commitment to him also likely means prospects like Bill Hamid (pictures) and Sean Johnson will go on the back burner when it comes to who they will development. So they must be sure about the 22-year-old’s potential before making the decision to add him to the 23-man Gold Cup roster.

With Clint Dempsey, Howard is one of the old men on the team who has been around since Bruce Arena’s first tenure as the international team’s manager. Going back to his debut with the team in 2002, Howard has seen time in 114 matches. He burst onto the scene at the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup, where he won the Golden Glove. That was when he was 30-years-old. At 34-years-old, in the 2014 World Cup, Howard showed his continued excellence with a World Cup record 16 saves in a match against Belgium.

But while Howard still probably will be the man in front of the net for the US during their run towards and hopefully in the 2018 World Cup, the future of the position has gotten kind of interesting lately. The US and Mexico soccer federations are having a fight over prized prospect Jesse Gonzalez. The 22-year-old of Mexican descent was both in Edenton, North Carolina and is a dual citizen and therefore eligible to play for both teams. Gonzalez has been part of the Mexican national youth team and played for their U-20 team in the FIFA under-20 World Cup. He also played for their under-23 team. But Gonzalez remains committed to the idea of playing for the United States.

The FC Dallas goalkeeper was the 10th homegrown player in that club’s history and became their starting goalie at the end of the 2015 season. Over the past three seasons, Gonzalez has started 27 matches and has allowed only 28 goals in 2,430 minutes of action. He has 12 shutouts and 73 saves. His 75-percent save percentage so far in 2017 ranks second in the MLS among goalkeepers with at least five appearances.

At just 22-years-old, Gonzalez has great potential to be a star in goal, so it was quite a surprise that when Bruce Arena announced the United States’ 40-man preliminary roster for the 2017 Gold Cup, it featured Gonzalez’ name. It was even better news for US Soccer that Gonzalez reportedly announced that he would accept the call and commit himself to the USA if they name him to the final 23-man roster.

But the only way to make him cap-tied to the US is actually to play him in that tournament.

Of course, the US could just call Gonzalez up and play him in a game, but there is a lot of decision making at needs to be made. The USA needs to keep their top unit together as they continue to prepare for the 2018 World Cup, for which they are still fighting to qualify.

And goalkeeper is the one position where the USA is not searching for talent at the moment with Brad Guzan and Nick Rimando both on the squad. Thought like Howard, both are nearing they end of their international careers, but DC United’s Bill Hamid, New England Revolution’s Cody Cropper, and Toronto FC’s Alex Bono are also on the cusp of making the national team. Ethan Horvath is also viewed as a future successor for Howard, though he was left off the Gold Cup roster as he is fighting for a spot at Club Brugge. New York FC’s Sean Johnson and Orlando City SC’s Joe Bendik were also on the preliminary roster.

Keeping Gonzalez on the US side and playing him to keep him committed and away from Mexico is a possibility. However, if adding him to the squad takes away from the development of those other guys in the US’ system and is detrimental, then Mexico is sure to make Gonzalez a fixture on their roster. It is not a decision only about Gonzalez’ potential, but also for Johnson’s and Hamid’s and Bendik’s and Horvath’s. Committing to a 22-year-old is certainly a gamble.

The 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup will be played between July 7-26 in the United States. The final 23-man rosters must be submitted to CONCACAF no later than June 27.

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Corey Johns

Editor in Chief
You could say Corey was born to become a sports journalist. His father won a national championship coaching college soccer. His mother is a baseball fanatic who hasn't missed seeing an Orioles game since 1983 (literally, sometimes it's annoying). His great uncle was a big-time boxing promoter and his maternal grandfather was once a department head at the Baltimore Sun. Basically, sports and journalism run through his blood. He played just about every little league sports there was when he was a kid and was a multi-sport athlete in high school; even playing in the first-ever high school sanction Rugby game in the country. Eventually he retired from sports as an undefeated Maryland state Rugby champion as a high school senior. Perhaps lack of athletic talent has more to do with the retirement, but he will tell you that it more had to do with a great desire to jump right into media. Upon his graduation from University of Maryland, Baltimore County as a triple communications major, Corey started the So Much Sports network and has continued to grow his websites and continues to work to make them premier sports media outlets.

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