TAHARKA TAYLOR - Tuesday, June 7, 2011
The US Men's National Team opens up their 2011 Gold Cup campaign on Tuesday at Ford Field in Detroit when they take on Canada.
While it may not be the pinnacle of the sport, nor does it capture the global stage in the same manner as the World Cup, the CONCACAF Gold Cup comes with its own challenges and added pressure; Tim Howard and the US are favorites.
"We're being chased, we're being hunted, and there are expectations upon our shoulders," Howard testified. "We've been to [four of the last five] Gold Cup finals so there is an expectation and we do feel pressure. It's important because [the winner] qualifies for the Confederations Cup which we desperately want to go back to."
Earning a trip to the 2013 Confederations Cup in Brazil will be no easy task. While the USA and Mexico are favorites to meet in the final on June 25th in Pasadena, the US must first get through Canada, Guadeloupe, and Panama just to get to the knockout phase of the tournament. When asked about the dangers of looking ahead to a potential final appearance and if it can be helped, Howard dismissed it as a non-issue.
"No but I think we do it in a healthy way," he responded. "We try not to be arrogant but I think ultimately that's got to be your goal, you want to be the best and you need to get to the finals. You have to beat the teams that you know you're going to come up against. We only look ahead to the final because that is our goal."
With many US supporters viewing anything short of a finals appearance as well as an impressive showing throughout the tournament as a failure, the pressure to perform is evident. Nothing could surmount that pressure if the USA were to meet Mexico in the finals.
"It's up there with the top [rivalries]. I try to explain it to people back in England just how crazy, just how passionate it is. When you're not Mexican or you're not American it's hard to appreciate that because there are so many [rivalries] around the world. I think it gets dismissed a lot of times but it's up there with the biggest and most heated."
Just how big is it to Howard and the rest of the Men's national team?
"As a US player that's how you measure yourself, how you played in the game against Mexico."
As the US gears up for the Gold Cup, something else new and exciting is taking place within in the fabric of the team: a new generation of American talent is emerging. When asked to assess this new group of players Howard had nothing but positive things to say.
"We've had some new faces in and they've shown well. They've integrated into the team well, good prospects. I think that's the best way to build a team, bring some guys in and onto the fringe and incorporate them, they've done a good job."
One of the most challenging aspects of this tournament for head coach Bob Bradley will be finding a way to inject new talent into a line up which features several U.S. veterans at the peak of their careers. Clint Dempsey was recently voted Fulham player of the Season for 2010/11. Maurice Edu contributed significantly to help Rangers win their third consecutive Scottish Premier League title and Steve Cherundolo captained Hannover 96 to a fourth place finish in the German Bundesliga in what was a overall a highly impressive season.
"It's never going to be a complete overhaul, we've got a good nucleolus and the same coaching staff, it's not as if [Bob Bradley] has to completely rebuild."
As a part of that nucleolus Howard has come a long way since his days manning the net for the New York/New Jersey MetroStars who have since re-branded as New York Red Bulls.
When asked about his New Jersey roots and what he thought of his old club's ability to develop young talent Howard responded, "It's great. There have been a lot of good players to come through there. You do see players particularly in the last ten years come and go; myself, Jozy [Altidore], and Michael Bradley. Now Juan [Agudelo] is a very good prospect and Tim [Ream] so it's good that my hometown club keeps producing players. As soon as the weekend's finish [during the season] I look for Manchester United and Red Bull results."
When asked about his future and life after soccer, specifically if he foresaw his career continuing as long as 40-year-old retired international Brad Friedel, under whom Howard once served as an understudy, Howard didn't appear eager to play quite as long.
"We could be talking nine years from now and I could be wrong but that's not something that's on my radar. I don't want to play that long, I think I have other goals I want to do outside of the game, well outside of the playing field."
"Definitely not coaching," he continues, explaining, "No I'd make a very bad coach, I don't have that bug. I'd like to be somewhere in a front office wearing a suit, still having a passion for the game, you know, learn a new trade."
When asked if the United States and MLS were possibilities Howard said, "That would be nice, obviously I'm not one hundred percent certain but it's a thought, thought would be nice."
However Howard's immediate future is with Everton and despite reports that favorable manager David Moyes future at the club could be limited, Howard insist he rather not be anywhere else.
"It's a place I love to be, I don't want to leave. This game is a business sometimes so there is that side to it but I'm happy, I'm happier than I've ever been. It's hard to speculate but my heart is there for the club. Part of that is the fact that we've got an unbelievable coach but again things happen and times change but the club always stays the same so I hope that I can be there. "