Howard expects his back line to be busy against France
PARIS — US national team netminder Tim Howard is expecting his defense to be on its toes during Friday's friendly with France (3 pm ET, ESPN2, Univisión, live chat on MLSsoccer.com).
The Everton custodian says he will do his best to direct the back-liners in the most efficient manner for limiting chances to the French side, knowing he'll need plenty of help against their attack-minded hosts.
"The biggest challenge tomorrow is to stay organized and tight at the back and press the ball," Howard told MLSsoccer.com on Thursday. "Obviously, if we can cut them out before they get shots off or make runs, the better off we'll be. After that, you've got to start making that money, making some saves."
Despite the prospect of facing a highly skilled Les Bleus arsenal at Stade de France, the 'keeper says he doesn't go into a contest with any mental game plan for any of the particular marksmen.
"My preparation is the same as it always is," Howard said. "I've played in a lot of big games. Goalkeeping is so reactionary. The time to think about things is when things go wrong. Top-level players are top-level players, whether or not they play for France."
Playing in the English Premier League's spotlight for more than eight years has honed the New Jersey native's ability to tune out distractions from rowdy away crowds.
"At this stage, I don't find too many things that rattle me," admitted Howard. "It doesn't mean things are always great, but I try to take them in stride. I have seen a lot and that's to my advantage — that's experience."
Howard is also looking forward to next week's reunion tilt in Slovenia. At the 2010 World Cup, the US fell behind by two goals only to rally for a 2-2 draw in their second group-stage game in Johannesburg.
"That will be difficult as well," he said. "We will be away against the team that we drew, and it was certainly a game of two halves. It will be interesting."
Even more important than the potential entertainment value, the 32-year-old knows harsh tests like these two road friendlies will benefit the team greatly once 2014 World Cup qualifying starts next June.
"We want to have these challenges so that when you get to World Cup, which is our ultimate goal, we're prepared for whatever comes our way," stated Howard, who will collect his 71st cap against France.
"These are important games for us. We can try and measure ourselves against the best teams in the world, so we're prepared for qualifying. The fact that they're at home makes it even tougher, but hopefully it will toughen us and make us stronger."