Back line questions remain heading into USMNT friendly vs Peru | MLS Now

WASHINGTON – Tim Howard is the most-capped goalkeeper in US national team history, the hero of the 2014 World Cup and one of the mighty English Premier League's most consistent 'keepers of the past decade.

But he stepped away from the USMNT for a personal break that lasted almost exactly a year, an even longer sabbatical than the controversial one taken by his former teammate Landon Donovan, and so he'll spend the team's next three games – at least – watching from the bench.

That's the firm message coach Jurgen Klinsmann has driven home on Howard's return to the USMNT fold this week. The veteran has been welcomed, but despite more than a decade of sterling service, he has to start over at the ground floor, or somewhere close to it. Brad Guzan remains the starter for Friday's friendly vs. Peru (7 pm ET, FOX Sports 1/UniMás/UDN), Tuesday's showdown with Brazil – and the one everyone's looking forward to most, the CONCACAF Cup grudge match against Mexico on Oct. 10.

“Since we are so [close to] the clash with Mexico we’re not making those changes right now,” Klinsmann said this week. “Brad is the No. 1, Tim is the No. 2, because he was gone for more than a year from the team.

“Once we have the Mexico game successfully out of the way, then we can think about splitting time. But now it’s really about getting consistency with the players and getting the job done in October.”

Howard, however, sounds uninterested in changing anything about his approach to the national team that he's anchored for so many years.

“I’ve never been a backup. I think that’s a mentality, you know?” said the Everton 'keeper. “I work my tail off every day. I know what it means to compete at the highest level, to have a certain level of excellence. And I do that. I’ve never been a backup. I never will be. So that’s not something I worry about too much.”

Howard declined to shed light on the conversations he's had with Klinsmann, but said he's been given no specific timeframe for when he'll be considered for the starting role again. The USMNT starts 2018 World Cup qualifying in November.

“I don't know. I have an idea,” he said. “But I’ll do what I’ve always done: come in, train hard and keep myself fit and ready, and then when the opportunity presents itself, take advantage of it.”

A slightly different message has been presented to Jermaine Jones, another familiar face making his return to the squad after a long break.

The New England Revolution star's presence and influence is greatly valued by the USMNT staff. But the careful restoration of his full fitness after a nagging groin problem will restrict him to a substitute's role for now, until Klinsmann is assured that he's back at top form.

“It's very important to have him back, just for the group,” said the coach on Thursday. “He's not 100 percent yet. We all know that. He hasn't picked up a rhythm yet; he's not at the physical capabilities that he usually brings into our group. But still, his experience, his drive, his energy and his way of guiding people around him is very important.

“We'll get Jermaine on the field, but certainly not for 90 minutes.”