Pragmatism ushers Beasley, Howard back to USMNT
The signposts emerged as July unfolded. DaMarcus Beasley joined up with the U.S. national team for the ill-fated run through the CONCACAF Gold Cup knockout stage and spoke earnestly and emotionally about his connection to the program. Tim Howard outlined his intention to return from a one-year sabbatical at the start of his preseason commitments with Everton.
U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann kept the door wide open for both players as he addressed their potential places in the plans moving forward. He ushered the two veteran campaigners through it on Thursday by unveiling his widely expected decision to name them in the squad to face Peru and Brazil next month.
Their inclusions reflect the dose of pragmatism required ahead of the crunch Confederations Cup playoff against Mexico in October. It is not ideal to turn to seasoned figures after spending the better part of a year assessing younger prospects, but it is necessary with the stakes at hand after failing to retain the Gold Cup.
“With DaMarcus Beasley and Timmy Howard back on board as well, it gives the group a tremendous amount of quality, of experience and of leadership,” Klinsmann told ussoccer.com. “So we are thrilled.”
Beasley tipped his desire to continue his international career during his frustrating Gold Cup spell, but he surfaced as an expected and necessary pick when Fabian Johnson went to the sidelines for the short- and the medium-term. The incumbent left back is expected to miss the next several weeks after tearing a muscle in his right calf on Sunday. His murky status leaves that particular fullback berth wide open heading into the pair of friendlies and the date with El Tri at the Rose Bowl.
Extensive efforts to cultivate viable alternatives ultimately highlighted Beasley as the best option for the present. Klinsmann deployed Greg Garza and Brek Shea in that spot with mixed results during five of the first six matches this year. Garza missed out on the initial 23-man roster for the Gold Cup, moved into the squad when Brad Davis dropped out and then returned to Mexico after group play. Shea spent much of the summer in the treatment room after sustaining a groin injury in June and undergoing sports hernia surgery in mid-July. His status for September or October plunged into doubt in the process.
There are no concerns about fitness or form with Beasley as a potential replacement. He frees Timothy Chandler to stay on the right and removes the lingering uncertainty on the left. His dependability on and off the field makes him a vital component to the plans over the next few months.
“It’s a big statement for us because he’s a guy who is not only important on the field because of the qualities he still has — and it seems like he’s not getting older at all — but he’s also important as a chemistry guy within the group,” Klinsmann said. “He’s always a positive thinker. He’s looking after younger players. He makes sure the chemistry is OK and the energy level is always high. To have him back in our group for the future is huge for us. Hopefully, it will be a long future still for DaMarcus Beasley with the national team.”
Beasley’s continued presence offers certainty at left back, but Howard’s return to the fold after a year away unsettles the goalkeeping depth chart.
Brad Guzan claimed the number one shirt when Howard stepped away and landed Golden Glove honors for his displays at the Gold Cup this summer. His performances largely impressed during his first major tournament as the starter, though his foray outside the penalty area conceded the free kick for Giles Barnes’ rasping winner in the semifinal defeat to Jamaica.
Guzan dismissed any potential discontent and underscored his desire to compete for the position last month, but he also spent eight years as Howard’s understudy. The situation — at least for the moment — is reversed now with Howard now parachuted into camp as an impeccably qualified number two. Both players boast the commitment and the professionalism to cope with the changed circumstances, but the dynamic bears watching with a one-off playoff looming in October.
The state of matters now is clear: Klinsmann backed Guzan as his incumbent starter even with Howard once again in the mix. The real question is the extent of the margin between the two players over the next few months as Klinsmann contemplates his fraught choice in October.
“[Howard] knew it was not going to be easy to come back because, obviously, Brad Guzan established himself as the number one and played a very good tournament and the whole year he really did a good job,” Klinsmann said. “Tim has accepted for the time being to be the number two, and then, down the road, there will be a fight for the number one spot, like in every position. He accepted that, and we are really happy to have him back on board because of who he is and what he has done for us.”
The accomplishments of Howard and Beasley form the bedrock of their renewed place in the national team picture. Klinsmann spent the better part of a year scouring his player pool for options. His decision to include his veteran duo for the foreseeable future reflects the reality of the options at his disposal. Beasley and Howard remain potentially critical contributors with a decisive playoff looming in the distance. It isn’t exactly according to plan, but it is the road worth following now given the terrain ahead.