U.S. goalkeepers prepare for life without Howard

The USA No. 1 goalkeeper has been a constant for the Americans for years, but his back injury opens the door for others during the upcoming World Cup qualifiers.
WASHINGTON -- As D.C. United and Real Salt Lake tangled Saturday night at RFK Stadium, goalkeepers Nick Rimando and Bill Hamid stood on opposing ends of the field playing with more at stake on an individual level than on a run-of-the-mill MLS Saturday.

With USA No. 1 goalkeeper Tim Howard out "several weeks" with broken bones in his back, according to comments made by Everton manager David Moyes, a rare opportunity has presented itself for the other goalkeepers in the U.S. national team player pool to assume greater responsibility during crucial World Cup qualifiers. Though there is an overwhelming sense of compassion and support for Howard, both MLS goalkeepers are preaching calmness and confidence despite a rare injury to the typically healthy anchor in the back for the USA.

"It's unlucky for Tim to be hurt, but we have some great goalkeepers in this country," Rimando said following the 1-0 RSL defeat, which dropped the club to 0-5-3 all-time at RFK Stadium. "Obviously Tim is No. 1 and the best goalkeeper in the country, but we won't miss too much of a beat whoever they put in."

Brad Guzan is the likely choice for Jurgen Klinsmann's starting XI, as the in-form Aston Villa goalkeeper has backed up Howard for each of the seven 2014 World Cup qualifying matches thus far and has the most big-game international experience of the bunch.

"Brad's a great goalkeeper, always has been," Rimando said. "He's gone to Europe and he's done well, this year especially he's gotten his opportunity and he's grabbed a hold of it."

The order behind Guzan, however, is open to interpretation, and four goalkeepers -- not including 41-year-old Tottenham goalkeeper Brad Friedel, who took to Twitter Saturday to boldly say he was open to returning to international play if called upon in a pinch -- figure to be competing for two U.S. roster spots later this month.

Rimando, Hamid, Chicago Fire backstop Sean Johnson and the Houston Dynamo's Tally Hall have all been in camp under Klinsmann recently, Rimando for qualifying matches -- and as Howard's backup for the historic August triumph in Mexico -- and Hamid, Johnson and Hall for the U.S. January camp. Howard's injury has opened up the door for all of them to climb up the depth chart with meaningful matches on the horizon.

"We've got very sound goalkeepers," Hamid said. "We've already proven that America has very, very good goalkeepers. Nick is very good, Brad is very good and it's all a competition. I look at them as my competition, and I'm sure they look at everybody else that's in the mix as competition. We all have confidence going into the situation. We know we can step in and get the job done, we know we can do well. We can take advantage of the opportunity if we get it."

Rimando and Hamid both performed well Saturday. Hamid followed up his strong Week 1 effort, in which he denied a Brad Davis penalty kick, by recording two saves to secure his first clean sheet of the season.

"I feel like I'm playing well," Hamid said. "I feel extremely, extremely sharp. I just want to keep building."

Rimando came up with top-level efforts to deny Chris Pontius, John Thorrington and Carlos Ruiz from getting on the board. His only concession came when Lionard Pajoy touched home his full-extension, parried effort of Thorrington's 60th-minute chip.

Both will surely be under the microscope next week as well, in the final MLS matches leading up to the March 22 and 26 qualifiers against Costa Rica and Mexico, respectively, with a shade of uncertainty suddenly clouding the position that has been a source of stability.

"I think you always mentally prepare for anything," Rimando said. "To have the opportunity to play for the national team, if you're playing, if you're not playing or if you're on the bench, you're helping the team."