Goalkeeper has long been a position of particular strength for the United States Men’s National Team.
The World Cup in Brazil made Tim Howard a household name among even the most casual of fans. But lest we forget, before Howard there was Brad Friedel, and before him Kasey Keller. Howard is currently backed up by Aston Villa stalwart Brad Guzan, who has become an English Premiership star in his own right.
So what’s the concern? Well, Howard is on a self-imposed “break” from the national team at the moment, and has openly expressed some doubt as to whether he expects to play in the 2018 World Cup. He’ll be 39 in 2018, and had this to say to Dan Patrick earlier this summer:
“I would imagine at the moment the way things look I think Brad Guzan [would be the starter.] He’s a top top goalkeeper … he’s a dear friend and his talent is incredible.I can barely see next week, much less four years down the road.” -Tim Howard
Not exactly confidence inspiring. The Everton man recently re-upped his contract with the club to run through 2018, but as was the case with Friedel, it’s customary to retire from National Team duty prior to the end of your club career. A younger Guzan may well simply be the better keeper come 2018, and I can’t imagine that Howard will agree to go to Russia as a backup.
That leaves Guzan the presumptive starter for 2018, which in and of itself is not bad news at all. Guzan has been excellent for both club and country over the past two years. In fact, many were calling for him to take over the reigns for the USMNT in 2013 as Howard slumped. I can think of a couple nations (Ahem, Belgium and Portugal) who wish Klinsmann would have made that move.
However, after Guzan, things become far less clear. 2014 third stringer Nick Rimando will also be 39 by 2018. However, as he relies a bit more on his cat-like quickness and reflexes than the more imposing Howard, it’s unlikely he’ll still be involved with the USMNT in 2018, and certainly not beyond. Let’s take a look at the current keepers in waiting to jump into the net when Guzan and Howard finally hang up their gloves.
The DC United Home Grown Player has long been tipped to be the future keeper for the USMNT. Perhaps that’s the problem though; we still talk about the 23 year old in terms of potential rather than performance. Did you happen to catch DC play the Red Bulls this week? I did. Hamid was phenomenal. Of course, you may have also caught DC’s crushing loss against Houston in August, when Hamid failed to communicate with defender Steve Birnbaum and conceded the winning goal in the 93rd.
Hamid is 6’3″, solidly built, and generally looks the part physically of an elite keeper. His main strength lies in his ability to make him self HUGE in 1 on 1 situations. I would argue that he may already be better than Guzan or Howard in this respect.
However, mental lapses and mistake-prone outings have left plenty of doubt, not to mention DC’s miserable 2013 effort. Perhaps a move to Europe is in order? He was linked with Celtic in 2009 and trained with West Brom in 2011, but nothing materialized. Hamid has all the tools to be the USA’s #1 after 2018, but he needs to mature and improve his consistency for that to happen.
Cropper is similar in size and build to Hamid at just about 6’3″. From what I’ve seen, he appears to lack the freak athletic ability, but is more sound technically. I can’t offer quite as much subjective analysis here, as frankly there hasn’t been much to analyze. Cropper is the number three keeper at Premier League side Southampton, which while impressive, provides basically no first team minutes for the youngster.
That should change soon though, as Cropper will more than likely be the starter for the USA’s U-21 side that will attempt to earn a trip to the Rio Olympics in 2016. Cropper is a few years behind Hamid, but his time spent training in the English top flight should prove invaluable. The Olympics and qualifying will provide Cropper with every chance to grab the 3rd string spot for 2018, which would put him solidly in the drivers seat looking toward 2022.
The dual-national (Jamaican parents) was officially cap tied to the USMNT in 2013, earning his first start for the senior team against Costa Rica in the Gold Cup. At about 6’4″, he may be a touch taller than Hamid or Cropper. The current Chicago Fire keeper is also 25 years old, which makes him the oldest of the bunch.
Long viewed as a direct rival to Hamid as the heir-apparent to Howard and Guzan, Johnson has had his ups and downs as well. His gaffe against El Salvador in Olympic qualifying in 2012 led to the USA’s shocking failure to advance to the Olympics. However, in my mind at least, he’s still the more consistent option. If given the choice today in a meaningful USMNT match, I would start Johnson over Hamid.
Consider Steffen a darkhorse candidate, but the University of Maryland Sophomore has earned rave reviews thus far in his college career, earning ACC All-Freshman honors in his first season. Steffen came up through the Philadelphia Union academy, and has spent considerable time with the USMNT youth clubs, so he’s far from unknown to Klinsmann and Tab Ramos. He has a slightly smaller frame than the others, and at only 19, it’s unlikely that he’s really in competition for a spot in 2018. However, he may get some meaningful minutes backing up Cropper during Olympic qualifying.
So what does it all mean?!
Well, as mentioned, we’ll certainly know a lot more by the end of the 2016 Olympics. Cropper and Steffen have tons of hype and not a lot of game minutes at the moment. Another name to consider is Ethan Horvath, currently a reserve with Molde FK in Norway.
I actually do not expect Tim Howard to be on the World Cup roster in 2018, so while Guzan will be expected to play the vast majority of minutes, it’s very possible that two of these young keepers will be expected to travel to Russia and back him up. With DC United in top form in the MLS this season, Bill Hamid looks to be the top dog for the moment. His occasional mental lapses are still very concerning, however I’m willing to chalk that up to youth.
Prediction for Russia 2018:
1. Brad Guzan
2. Bill Hamid
3. Cody Cropper