USA in safe hands with Howard, youngsters ahead of 2018 World Cup
JUL 02, 2014 10:52a ET
SALVADOR, Brazil --
There is some good news amongst the despair for Team USA.
While Belgium bounced the the United States men's national team from Brazil 2-1 in extra-time, the Americans discovered that they have some bright young talents emerging – and a pair of steady old hands. Those hands belong to goalkeeper Tim Howard, who delivered another titanic performance on Tuesday, making him arguably the player of the tournament for the Americans.
“Tim played tonight just phenomenal, he was outstanding,” said USA manager Jurgen Klinsmann following the match. “He kept us a long time in this game. That’s what you want to build on the back of Tim, getting back in the game and then finding opportunities to score. Thanks to Tim we had that possibility throughout 120 minutes because he kept us in there.”
The goalkeeper, who was named man of the match in spite of being on the losing team and was the first goalie to make 16 saves in a World Cup game since 1966, was straightforward and unassuming about his stellar night. “That’s what I signed up to do, stick my face in front of balls,” he said. “It’s nothing.”
At 35, this was Howard’s second World Cup as a starter and third overall. There is hope he will be around for a third. But Howard will be 39 then, old even for a goalkeeper, though he is signed through the 2018 season with his Barclays Premier League club Everton, suggesting he intends to play until then. That doesn’t mean his international career will last just as long of course. But even if it isn’t, the future of the program also seems in good stead.
DeAndre Yedlin replaced injured right back Fabian Johnson in the 32nd minute and helped shut down Belgium’s star playmaker Eden Hazard, imbuing the attack with real venom going forward. Julian Green, meanwhile, entered the fray in the 107th minute, making his competitive debut for the USA, and quickly poked home the goal that gave the Americans a fighting chance.
“We see a couple of young players coming through the ranks,” said Klinsmann. “We see Julian Green jumping on the field and scoring right away and DeAndre Yedlin. We have many other youngsters waiting. After you finish a World Cup, you discuss the future of it and that goes towards the young players that we have in our country and we build the next cycle.”
While the Americans are not a young side overall, seven of the 23 players on the team are 24 or younger, and the experience they gained here will be invaluable in the tournaments to come. The Gold Cup is right around the corner and the Copa America will take place in the United States in 2016. “This was a good taste for those guys,” said Howard. “Guys got some good minutes and saw what it was about and you learn some lessons.”
Before the tournament, veterans like Howard had talked about the value of having players so young that they didn’t know enough to be overwhelmed. “I just tried to go out and play,” said Yedlin. “I knew if I got intimidated I’m not going to be at my best.”
He’d been happy just to make the team, and a bit shocked by it. “Obviously, I was a bubble player for making camp and for making the 23,” he said. “I was a little bit surprised here and there.”
But he started making appearances as a substitute early on as a right winger, even though he is a right back by trade, and kept on coming in. “The way the kid played tonight and previous occasions there was just no fear at all and doing very, very well,” said Klinsmann.
Green, likewise, had seemed a long shot to make the final roster, having injured his shoulder during his debut with the USA in a friendly against Mexico in April. “The bad thing with Julian is he came right after an injury,” said Herzog. “In camp he was really, really tired. He was scared about his shoulder injury and he was not in a good shape at the beginning of the camp.”
“But then we could see he was better and better, the legs were fresher and fresher,” Herzog continued. “He lost a little bit his confidence because he didn’t have a great start. But the last few days he did better and I think he will be a very good player for the United States. There’s no single player with the same abilities he has. He could be key for the future.”
“Julian was growing at a very fast speed in the last seven weeks,” added Klinsmann. “It’s fun to watch that kid grow."
Green, who made a one-time switch from the German to the American federations in the spring, may have only played a few minutes, but he could have three or four more World Cups ahead of him. “I’m 19 years old and all the experience from a World Cup is very important for me,” he said. “I have it now in my head.”
If the Americans came away from Brazil disappointed -- even though they attained their stated objective of reaching the group of death -- some sound building blocks were put in place for the future. “What you hope is that your team really takes this experience and understands now what this level means, what this intensity means, what the pace of the game means and the demands,” said Klinsmann.
Time will tell.