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Arena tabs Howard as starting U.S. goalkeeper ahead of June qualifiers

7:35 AM IST 30/05/17
Tim Howard USA Mexico 11112017
The U.S. national team coach has several position battles to decide on in camp, but he has decided to go with the Rapids man in goal

Tim Howard didn't have to travel far to join the U.S. national team's World Cup training camp in Colorado this week, and as far as U.S. coach Bruce Arena is concerned, the Colorado Rapids goalkeeper also won't be departing from the starting position he held down in March.

Arena kicked off the team's first day of training camp by declaring Howard as his starting goalkeeper ahead of Brad Guzan, Nick Rimando and Ethan Horvath, leading up to June's qualifiers against Trinidad and Tobago and Mexico.

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"As of now it’s Tim Howard," Arena said Monday. "He had two good games (in March) and we’ll have to see how these guys look over the next couple of weeks. We have good goalkeepers here so that’s the least of my worries."

It wasn't much of a surprise that Howard would get the nod. Sidelined by a groin injury suffered in the U.S. loss to Mexico in November, Howard returned to action with the Rapids in time to get himself fit to start in the U.S. qualifiers against Honduras and Panama.

At the time, Howard admitted to not yet being at 100 percent due to missing out on training camp. But now that he has been able to put together a run of starts in MLS since those March qualifiers, Howard has returned to top form as one of the few bright spots on a struggling Rapids team.

"I feel great," Howard said. "My body’s been getting stronger week by week as I came out of preseason. I feel good about where I’m at, and how I feel physically obviously that’s the most important thing. The soccer is the soccer, and the goalkeeping is natural for me now at my age."

Howard has settled back into the No. 1 role for the U.S. after briefly losing the spot to Brad Guzan under then-U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann. Guzan started for the U.S. in the 2016 Copa America before Klinsmann eventually had the veterans alternate as starters in World Cup qualifiers in September.

Howard moved back into the starting spot after Guzan settled into a backup role for English club Middlesbrough, but it was Guzan who stepped in after Howard's injury in November.

Howard has been one of the best goalkeepers in MLS since returning to action this season, but Guzan put together a run of seven consecutive starts to close out the season with relegated Middlesbrough ahead of his summer move to Atlanta United.

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That run of playing time wasn't enough to unseat Howard as the U.S. starter, though. That said, Howard, 38, wasn't putting too much stock into being named U.S. starter.

"I’ve only ever had one game," Howard said. "That’s as far as you can look. You can’t look to next week or the week after or two months from now. The next game is what matters to me.

"If I have the honor of representing my country — and I say it all the time, it probably sounds like lip service but outside of my kids it’s the greatest thing I’ve ever done in my life — so it means the world to make it on the field, and put that shirt on and try to lead this team and perform well."