World Cup: Tim Howard admits pressure on him to guide inexperienced USMNT backline

STANFORD, Calif. – Tim Howard couldn’t help but laugh at the question.

“I don’t think it’s possible for me to be more vocal,” the veteran goalkeeper said after he finished chuckling about the notion that he would need to talk more with a relatively inexperienced group of defenders on hand at the US national team’s World Cup training camp.

Howard knows, however, that there is some truth behind the mirth, and he acknowledged it Monday before the Americans’ training session on Monday at Stanford Stadium.

“Experienced players are meant to [lead],” Howard said. “I was a young kid [at] one time, and I would ride the coattails of the senior players, let them kind of drive it and I just kind of followed behind.

“But now roles have obviously changed; there’s a few of us here who have been around. You’ve got Michael [Bradley] and [DaMarcus Beasley] and Landon [Donovan] and myself. There’s just guys that are going to have to lead the ship, whether we like it or not.”

At 35 and entering his second World Cup as the Americans’ undisputed No. 1 goalkeeper, Howard should have both hands on the wheel, at least in terms of guiding the youth-filled US defense.

In South Africa, Howard played behind Carlos Bocanegra, Steve Cherundolo, Jay DeMerit and either Jonathan Bornstein or Oguchi Onyewu. None of those five defenders made the invite list to camp this time around.

“It just keeps me more in tune, trying to help guys out as much as I can,” Howard said. “If I’m giving them too much information, they’ll tell me. If it’s not enough, they’ll tell me that, too.”

With three goalkeepers required by FIFA to be on the 23-man roster and only three ‘keepers in camp, Howard is already guaranteed a spot in Brazil, barring injury. Yet even just a week removed from a triumphant season with Everton, falling just shy of a UEFA Champions League spot with first-year coach Roberto Martinez, he’s trying to take the training sessions as seriously as any of the outfield players still vying for a roster spot.

“I’ve never paced myself, unfortunately,” Howard said. “Even when I get offered the chance to take a game off, it’s not in my makeup. … I think it’s important because I don’t think you can turn it off and on. When you get rhythm, when you get confidence, when you feel good, you’ve got to keep that going.”

As for the notion that Howard will be the brains molding his backline into a cohesive unit, he’s not willing to let stand the question’s implicit thesis – that the likes of Beasley, a former midfielder, plus a host of World Cup newcomers – needs significant help. After all, the US allowed only eight goals in 10 Hexagonal games, six in their final nine contests.

“We’ve had a good qualifying campaign,” Howard said. “Defensively, I think we were pretty rock solid. Our numbers say that. I don’t know; we’ll have to find out. It’s sink-or-swim time when you get to the World Cup. There’s no guesswork. There’s nothing to speculate on. [Until then] we don’t really know.”

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