OBETZ, Ohio – After spending the better part of two years on the outside looking in, Tim Howard is the US national team's No. 1 once again, and he's ready to bring back the old days of home-soil dominance over Mexico.
The veteran goalkeeper lost the USMNT's starting role when he took a sabbatical from international play after the 2014 World Cup. Even after his return, Howard's longtime understudy Brad Guzan was generally preferred by coach Jurgen Klinsmann, manning the nets for most of the 2015 Gold Cup and 2016 Copa America Centenario, albeit with periods of platooning between the duo.
But Howard's career has been reinvigorated by his summer return to Major League Soccer after more than a decade in the English Premier League. And at age 37, the Colorado Rapids star finds himself in a prominent leadership role again for both club and country as the Yanks kick off the Hexagonal round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying against their fiercest rivals on Friday (7:45 pm ET, FS1, Univision).
And even though the USMNT has won the past four editions of this fixture by a 2-0 scoreline, Howard is making sure his teammates have a singular focus on the task at hand on Friday.
“You can never let your guard down,” he explained. “Mexico is too good of a team. They always have been. We have to prepare the right way. You can never let it become old hat, because that's when you get caught.”
With regards to Klinsmann's decision to re-instate him at the No. 1 spot, Howard professed to be unconcerned with the hows and the whys of the choice.
“I don't know. I've not changed anything,” said the New Jersey native at USMNT training on Wednesday. “My daily work has been the same the last two weeks as it had been the last 12 months. Nothing's going to change in that regard. Coming home has been good for me, has been good for Colorado.
“I don't really make those decisions, I don't really get involved in it. I try and do what I can do.”
Howard had to make a quick pivot from Sunday's penalty-kick shootout heroics in the Rapids' dramatic playoff win over the LA Galaxy to a week of high-profile preparation for the biggest game on the national team's calendar.
“That's football at the highest level,” he said. “I've been doing it for a while now. So you allow yourself 24 to 48 hours to enjoy it, and get back to work.
“This is a big game. This is the start of the Hex for both teams. Traditionally, we've both gone to the World Cup, and we're going to make sure that we do everything we can to put our best foot forward. These are two very tough games we have coming up. So Mexico stands in our way, as they always do. So we're going to try to handle that.”