Brisendine: Howard's form, even in defeat, should be encouraging for USMNT

Tim Howard - Colorado Rapids - Stares out from goal - Side angle

If you're an Atlanta United fan, you have to be happy with the team's 1-0 victory over the Colorado Rapids on Saturday night. If you support both ATL and the US national team – or any MLS club and the USMNT, for that matter – you have to like the fact that Rapids keeper Tim Howard kept the scoreline from being a lot uglier.

Despite taking the L behind a defense that's – let's be honest – at least three steps down from last year, Howard was clearly the best player on the pitch for Colorado. 

That's the kind of form the US need him to be in for this summer's CONCACAF Gold Cup and the next round of World Cup qualifiers, especially with Brad Guzan on unofficial hiatus until he takes over as Atlanta's No. 1 later this summer. (Sorry, Alec Kann; your match-ending save was clutch, but you're in the unenviable position of being this year's Zac MacMath.)

Yes, Howard gave up the match-winner to Josef Martinez in the 67th minute – but he also made six saves, including a couple of beauties, and had to face 11 corner kicks. And when you look at the clearance numbers (37 for Colorado to 27 for Atlanta), they tell you where most of the match was played.

No, it wasn't Belgium-U.S. in the 2014 World Cup, but Saturday's match showed that Howard can still stand in the gap and keep his team in a match with big stops. 

Check out this sprawling reaction stop on Martinez in the 58th minute, and this one-hander on Martinez's bicycle kick in the 65th minute. It's not just Howard's reaction speed that's on display; it's that he sees where the danger is going to come from and gets in the best position to stop it.

Truth be told, Howard wasn't in a bad spot when Martinez finally found the net. There were four defenders around the Atlanta DP, and not one of them made a credible play to keep Martinez from getting the shot off. Maybe Howard is especially tuned into positioning these days because he's not sure his back line can handle things before chances turn into shots on goal.

It's probably a bit much to ask Rapids/USMNT dual fans to be happy that Howard had to work so hard, but the truth is that the more shots a keeper has to face – and the more times he comes up big to keep them out –; the sharper he's going to be match in and match out. And, reality being what it is, Howard – despite Guzan starting the Yanks' 1-1 draw in Azteca during the most recent round of qualifying – is still the clear No. 1, at least through the Gold Cup and the Hexagonal, maybe even all the way through Russia 2018. 

When you have a guy you know is going to be The Guy, everyone's better when he's on his game.