GLASGOW, Scotland – The United States has a worldwide reputation for producing top-level goalkeepers.
As US national team goalkeepers coach Chris Woods said at the team’s training session on Wednesday ahead of their upcoming slate of friendlies starting Friday against Scotland (3 pm ET; ESPN2, UniMas), they “seem to have a great work ethic and natural ability.”
That, of course, means Jurgen Klinsmann has a tough choice to make between the posts, just as many USMNT head coaches have before him. Tim Howard and Brad Guzan are battling for the same position, with the former holding onto his place under pressure from the Aston Villa ‘keeper.
Guzan’s impressive form at the club level this season has prompted some to suggest he could take Howard’s place for the World Cup. Indeed, the competition for the US No. 1 shirt has never been so fierce.
“He’s been in brilliant form, he’s been fantastic,” said Howard, who will captain the US team on Friday, of about his counterpart on Thursday from the team’s training grounds at Hampden Park. “He’s one of my best friends. I mean, we compete like dogs on the field and we give it our all to out-do each other. It’s good to have that competition as it keeps you on top of your game.
“But that’s just goalkeeping. From the first time you pick up a pair of gloves, you’re competing for just one place. I’m used to it, and it won’t affect our relationship.”
Howard, who had played for seven years under David Moyes at Everton, now finds himself under the stewardship of a new manager this season, Roberto Martinez.
“The transition’s been very good,” Howard said. “When you have such a big transition, you don’t know what to expect but things have started off really well. Everyone’s bought into the philosophy under the new manager. It’s been a breath of fresh air.”
Howard started the USA’s last game against Scotland, a 5-1 humbling of the Scots in Jacksonville, Fla., last year, before being replaced by Guzan for the final 20 minutes.
But since then Gordon Strachan’s side has improved by almost 40 places in the FIFA rankings in under a year, collecting home and away wins against Croatia and Macedonia. A different team awaits the US here on Friday.
“We expect a good fight,” Howard said. “The last game was not indicative of how good they are as a team. The scoreline didn’t do justice to how evenly matched the two teams are. It’ll be a tough game, particularly at Hampden.”
Howard said he’ll pay particular mind to Sunderland striker Steven Fletcher and Norwich City winger Robert Snodgrass.
“[Fletcher's] a natural goalscorer and always gets himself in the right positions, so for a goalkeeper he’s obviously very dangerous,” Howard said. "... [Snodgrass] has a way of hitting the ball that always keeps goalkeepers on their mettle."
And then, of course, there is striker Steven Naismith, Howard’s teammate at Everton, to keep in mind.
“I’ll be doing my best to keep Naismith out, mainly because I’ll never hear the end of it,” Howard said.