The United States men’s national team is preparing for the start of the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. About a year ago SSFC’s Depth Chart series explored the USMNT player pool. Now, a year later, the team has improved tremendously from a horrid 2015, but how has the outlook on the pool changed? So with that in mind, as the Americans gear up for the Hex, we attempt to create a depth chart for the team, position by position. Figuring out what Klinsmann is thinking is a fool's errand, so this is what our depth chart would be and we'll talk about how we landed here.
Rob: For the first time in a very long time the U.S. men's national team have a very uncertain goalkeeping situation. There's not a veteran in the player pool who has a solid grasp on the starting job, nor is there a hotshot up-and-coming heir apparent. What does the current USMNT goalkeeping situation look like exactly?
Brendan: It's either at the very beginning of a transition or almost settled. Brad Guzan and Tim Howard have two more years to fight it out for the number one spot, and then I think the job goes to the young but incredibly poised Ethan Horvath. He's caught Jurgen Klinsmann's eye and I'm sure the Molde keeper will interest the next manager as well.
Rob: As we head into the Hex, we have decided on Brad Guzan for the No. 1 spot on the depth chart. Frankly this is a no-win situation for either candidate as it has been for the last year. Neither seem to be able to get a solid grasp on the job and make it theirs and both have glaring flaws in their games currently. Why Guzan over Howard?
Brendan: Howard's getting older, as sad as that is. He's lost a bit of his trademark explosiveness. While he's still ahead of Guzan, Howard is still trying to displace him. It's easier to hold the position at the top of the mountain than take it. Either Guzan will slip up (several times) or Howard will put in a series of performances so stellar that it's impossible to ignore him. Is there enough time in a year-and-a-half for that to happen? Maybe, but nobody wants to go into a World Cup with a goalkeeper controversy. A clear order will be decided well before the plane leaves for Russia.
Rob: I’m not sold on either, honestly. Whoever Klinsmann decides on, if he decides at all, will be fine with me. There’s always a chance we see a platoon going into 2017 and beyond. Age and playing time seem like the two biggest factors. While Guzan has the advantage in the former, Howard definitely has it in the latter, albeit with a much easier fight for minutes.
I guess the biggest question becomes, what will it take to get to the Ethan Horvath era?
Brendan: Injuries to Guzan and Howard, the passage of time, or a fast move and a faster adjustment at a bigger club. I don't see a move happening anytime soon though. Horvath is in a good spot at Molde. When it does become his job, I don't think anyone is going to challenge.
Rob: That seems to be the sentiment that Horvath is the sure replacement down the line. That title used to belong to Bill Hamid, but he has seemingly fell completely off Jurgen’s personal depth chart. We put him No. 5 on ours because I have a soft spot for him. Hamid has always had raw talent and a good ability to stop shots, but doesn’t seem to have ever taken that next step. Is that why he’s no longer in the conversation to succeed Howard or Guzan for the starting job or do you think it’s something else?
Brendan: I'll answer your question with an intentionally evasive question. Does it really matter what position you're in outside of the top three? Hamid can be four or nine, he still wasn't getting in the top three for the 2018 World Cup. He'll get a chance with the next manager along with William Yarbrough, David Bingham, and the next goalkeeper to emerge. Some people think Hamid needs to move to Europe and he's grown complacent in MLS, but I don't think he'll be leaving D.C. United anytime soon.
Rob: That's fair. As obvious of a statement as this is, goalkeeper is a very singular position. As long as you have two or three guys you're set. Aside from the fringe guys we've listed, are there any other candidates out there that deserve a mention that may get overlooked by casual fans or Klinsmann himself?
Brendan: Zack Steffen made what some considered to be a confusing move to Columbus Crew SC, but he certainly has the potential to grow into a top player. Nick Rimando is always a phone call away. While he may be getting pushed out now, I assume Klinsmann would call him into an important roster in the event of an injury to Guzan, Howard, or Horvath. There's also MLS veterans like Luis Robles and Steve Clark, but I don't foresee either of them getting a call up outside of a January camp (and even that seems unlikely).
Rob: I’m a huge Steffen fan. Next season will be a very telling one for him and whether or not he made the right career move. Other than him, the future seems to be in Horvath’s hands (terrible pun, I apologize).