By Tom FitzGerald
There’s Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan, Germany’s Miroslav Klose and Marco Reus, and of course Portugal’s great Cristiano Ronaldo, probably the best soccer player in the world.
So how will a revamped U.S. backline that’s woefully short on World Cup experience stop such threats?
It will have to jell quickly for the Americans to advance from Group G, one of the Cup’s strongest next month in Brazil.
Goalkeeper Tim Howard, one of the few people on the U.S. team assured a starting spot, defended the defenders this week as the team trained at Stanford.
“We’ve had a good qualifying campaign,” he said. “Defensively, I think we were pretty rock-solid. Our numbers say that.”
That said, he added that nobody knows how the group will fare on the world’s biggest stage. “It’s sink-or-swim time when you get to the World Cup,” he said.
Howard, 35, who has spent 11 years in the English Premier League, the last eight with Everton, laughed when asked if he’ll have to be more vocal to organize the young back line.
“I don’t think that’s possible, to be more vocal,” he said. He added, “If I’m giving them too much information, they’ll tell me. If it’s not enough, they’ll tell me that, too.”
In the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, he played with defenders Carlos Bocanega, Steve Cherundolo, Jay DeMerit, and either Jonathan Bornstein or Oguchi Onyewu. None of them was invited to this camp.
Instead, there will be people such as Geoff Cameron of the Premier League, MLS stalwarts Omar Gonzalez, Clarence Goodson and Matt Besler, or Tim Chandler and Fabian Johnson from Germany’s Bundesliga.
Overall, Howard said, the U.S. team is very talented, although the 2010 version – which lost to Ghana in the round of 16 – had more experience.
“This team is younger, but I think we’re slightly better than 2010 only because of that youth,” he said. “That inexperience almost helps you. Guys don’t know what to expect; they’re just hungry and ready to go for it. We’ve got some good playmakers. … Collectively this is a very strong team, a very athletic team.”
Having Jurgen Klinsmann in charge should help in Brazil, Howard said. “He challenges players and staff alike, always trying to take you out of your comfort zone and push it to the limit. I think it clearly works.”
Klinsmann led West Germany to its 1990 World Cup championship, but, as Howard said, “Unfortunately, he’s not going to be able to kick the ball for us.” Still, the team will be able to feed off the coach’s “demeanor in those big moments,” he said.
Despite being guaranteed a key role in the Cup, Howard said he’s pushing himself as hard as ever. “Even when I get offered the chance to take a game off, it’s not in my makeup,” he said. “I’ll take games off when I retire.”
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