Starting USA goalkeeper spot up for grabs ahead of crucial World Cup qualifier

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Will Bruce Arena give Tim Howard a chance to redeem himself, or will he turn to an in-form Brad Guzan to start against Panama on Friday?

SANFORD, Florida — The month of September wasn't a memorable one for the U.S. national team, nor was it for its goalkeepers.

Tim Howard had a rough night in the loss against Costa Rica while Brad Guzan's poor distribution offset some good saves in a mixed effort against Honduras. Bruce Arena didn't mince words when he called out Howard's part in one of Costa Rica's goals, a moment that left you wondering whether the 38-year-old would remain the first-choice U.S. goalkeeper in October.

As we stand three days away from Friday's crucial World Cup qualifier against Panama, Arena hasn't committed to either as his starter for the important match, which suggests September's disappointments have shaken things up a bit.

"We'll make a decision on our goalkeeper Thursday," Arena said when asked about where the position stands. He stopped himself just before that statement, ready to drop a "We'll see," but set Thursday as the day when he'd settle on his starter, which certainly suggests the competition is open.

Howard doesn't make any excuses for his performance in September, saying that he hasn't given it much thought in the month since then.

"You have a lot of highs and some lows, and every goal you give up there's probably things you can do better," Howard said. "I'm not overawed by that. I'm an old dog. I've seen it all. I've given up goals before that I would like to have back. For me it's not an issue.

"You have to (put it behind you)," the Colorado Rapids shot-stopper added. "You don't last this long, 21 years, dwelling on things."

Tim Howard USA 09012017

Guzan has put himself in position to take over the starting role on the strength of some good performances for Atlanta United. He has settled in smoothly with the MLS expansion team, giving the team a steady presence in goal.

That said, Howard is still very much considered the favorite to start. His ability to organize the defense remains an asset, along with his distribution. He has continued to play well for the Rapids, still showing the ability to make the highlight-reel save. As much as such stops were absent in his match against Costa Rica last month, Howard is still capable of delivering a top performance.

Having the two goalkeepers split qualifiers is something Arena has done before, both during the June set of matches and in September when Guzan earned the nod against Honduras. The splitting of duties between Howard and Guzan first began under Jurgen Klinsmann, when Howard returned from a post-World Cup sabbatical from the national team. Howard eventually won the job back under Klinsmann before suffering an injury against Mexico last November.

Brad Guzan USA 06212016

When Arena took over for Klinsmann, he once again installed Howard as his No. 1, giving him the starting nod in both of March's qualifiers, but the splitting of duties began again in June, with the two qualifiers against Trinidad & Tobago and Mexico being so close together. Part of the reason for sharing of duties has been because of Howard's age and struggle with recovering physically in time to handle playing two matches in four days.

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Arena could very easily have Howard and Guzan split starts again this time around, but his decision on Friday's starter will carry added significance because of the importance the match has in qualifying. Starting Guzan would send a clear message that he has edged in front of Howard in the overall pecking order, while Howard starting would mean the three-time World Cup veteran was still the U.S. No.1.

The good news for the U.S. is that whichever goalkeeper Arena chooses will bring experience in high-profile matches, the kind of experience that will give them and the U.S. the belief that they will deliver the much-needed victory.

"There's a confidence, but there's certainly urgency though," Howard said of Friday's match. "We understand what's at stake."

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