Tim Howard says USMNT lacks lead ahead of 2022 World Cup vs Saudi Arabia

Before the last rehearsal game of the US men’s national team Tuesday against Saudi ArabiaEx-USMNT goalkeeper Tim Howard had a lot to say about Gregg Berhalter’s unsettled goalkeeping situation ahead of the 2022 World Cup and also had advice for the current members of the team.

“It’s really good to have a game plan,” Howard said during his interview on the In Soccer We Trust podcast. “But when those lights come on against Wales and that first turnover happens and [a shot] whistles past the post, do they look at each other and say, “Okay, let’s play, we’re going to stay tuned,” or do they say, “Oh my god, we’re really in the middle of it now” and hit the panic button?”

With 121 caps, Howard was the last goaltender to play between the posts for USA at a World Cup. He led the team to the 2014 round of 16 against Belgium, where he made 16 saves to put the game into overtime.

Howard also had a good overview of what needs to change after the team failed in a friendly against Japan last week.

“I like the centre-backs in the last game but I think so [playing out of the back] doesn’t play to their strengths. The number of turnovers in your own half – that’s impossible. That can never happen again if we expect to win a game of football at this level,” he said.

Howard said Aaron Long and Walker Zimmerman had the ability to cross lines, but that wasn’t how the game against Japan was set up. The midfield failed to maintain possession, making life difficult for the defenders. After losing to Japan, Tyler Adams said the team didn’t stick to the game plan and unless the Americans regroup and find solutions together, they won’t make it through the group stage in Qatar.

Berhalter was also responsible for the flat performance, but if the team can’t collectively see openings on the pitch then it doesn’t matter how the schedule goes into those games. It’s something to watch out for against the Green Falcons, but Howard wants to know if there’s a plan B because this team won’t be able to dominate possession.

“Winning football games is the only thing that matters to me,” said Howard. “Well, if we as players give the ball 50 times in the first half, that’s not good enough for me. It’s about leadership.”

Being strong enough as a leader to respectfully question the manager is crucial for USMNT to move forward, and with a team this young, no one has taken the reins to be the undisputed leader in the dressing room. The captaincy is shared, and while this exposes multiple players to leadership responsibilities, it’s difficult to know who the true leader is.

Part of the reason why it’s difficult to have a plan B is that the team lacks the ability to change pace. Howard said he included Jordan Pefok in the squad against Japan because he wants scorers to be “selfish, egotistical and goal-hungry”. Being team oriented is a good plus but if the ball lands in the back of the net it doesn’t matter how they got there. Pefok’s strength also creates problems for centre-backs who can create more space for wingers to grow into. As concerns mount over the US forwards, calls for Pefok will only increase and calls for the team to remain goalless against Saudi Arabia will only get louder.

The lack of playing time elsewhere in the squad doesn’t worry Howard, particularly when it comes to Christian Pulisic as the Chelsea winger is the most talented player in the national team squad. Howard believes Pulisic deserved his chances in England and will get more playing time under Graham Potter compared to Thomas Tuchel.

One area on the USMNT roster that worries Howard is the goaltender. He is looking forward to the arrival of talented youngster Gabriel Slonina, who is likely to be loaned out when he joins Chelsea. But Howard shared some advice that Kasey Keller, another former USMNT goalie, once said: “You can’t judge a goalie until he’s played 100 games.” Slonina has 43 games in MLS for the Chicago Fire and has potential shown. But Howard said it needs to be tended to to ensure he doesn’t get lost in Chelsea’s loan army.

For the USMNT and the 2022 World Cup, goaltending duties will fall to either Matt Turner or Zack Steffen. This World Cup made for a perfect storm as Steffen and Ethan Horvath were loaned out to secure vital minutes while Turner is currently a backup for Arsenal. Rhythm is essential for a starting goalkeeper, which is why things are lean towards Steffen according to Howard and Berhalter.

Watch the full interview:

https://www.cbssports.com/soccer/news/tim-howard-says-usmnt-lacking-leadership-ahead-of-2022-world-cup-tune-up-against-saudi-arabia/ Tim Howard says USMNT lacks lead ahead of 2022 World Cup vs Saudi Arabia

Ari Notis

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