HANOVER, N.J. — It’s a door that hasn’t really been open for almost a generation.
Tim Howard and Brad Guzan clearly established themselves among the pecking order of US national team goalkeepers over the last decade. Before that, it was Kasey Keller and Brad Friedel, and before that Tony Meola.
But now a new, younger generation is getting their chance to prove themselves on the international stage.
That includes the trio of Alex Bono, Ethan Horvath and Zack Steffen who are among the 25-man roster for upcoming friendlies against Brazil Friday (7:30 pm ET | FS1, UniMás, Univision Deportes) at MetLife Stadium and next Tuesday against Mexico in Nashville. Each are under age of 25, with six combined caps among them. And yet the door for all of them, it would appear, is wide open.
“There’s always open competition, even with the veteran guys,” US coach Dave Sarachan said before training Wednesday. “I think we have a good core of young goalkeepers and I think the margins between what we would consider the starter for Friday [and] the next guy that wouldn’t start is very thin. I’m encouraged, but they’re young and they need experience.”
The goalkeepers themselves are trying not to put too much emphasis on a somewhat rare opportunity to establish themselves for the year to come.
“If you’re looking at it that way then I think it’s only going to cloud your judgement and cloud your mind of what you should be focusing on,” Toronto FC's Bono said. “For me it’s about coming in one training session at a time and making sure I’m preparing myself and making sure that I’m making the guys around me better.”
At first glance, the favorite would be Columbus Crew SC's Steffen. The 23-year-old has three caps, including a spectacular performance in a 1-1 draw against France in Lyon in early June.
“It’s a feeling of motivation to get out there and get better and push yourself each day to learn from the coaching staff and players on the field,” Steffen said Tuesday. “We have a long road ahead of us and every spot is open for grabs. We just got to go into training everyday and train like you want to be out there.”
After a stellar MLS Cup-winning season a year ago, the 24-year-old Bono has had a rollercoaster third season with Toronto. Clint Irwin has started the last two games — a pair of losses to the Portland Timbers and LAFC — and the defending champions have struggled throughout a trying campaign.
But he views the change of scenery with the USMNT as a positive and something he hopes he can take back with him for the stretch drive of the MLS season.
“Obviously I want to have success when I’m in Toronto,” Bono said. “It’s not something that’s easy to push aside, but the change of environment is definitely nice to refresh and get a new staff and some new guys around you to kind of reset yourself and make sure when I get back to Toronto, I’m bringing that confidence back with me and getting geared up for the rest of the season.”
Just like the rest of the young core who are hoping to be the backbone of the 2022 World Cup qualifying cycle, the goalkeepers see these games as a chance to prove they belong.
“I think it’s important for us as young players within the national team to take with us that it’s our path to create for ourselves,” Bono said. “We have to rely on ourselves to make sure that we continue to get called in and we continue to progress with the national team.”