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Tim Howard calls out USMNT for lack of leadership ahead of 2022 World Cup tune-up against Saudi Arabia

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On the eve of the final match of the US men’s national team Tuesday vs. Saudi ArabiaFormer USMNT goaltender Tim Howard has spoken extensively about the unsettled situation with goaltender Gregg Berhalter ahead of the 2022 World Cup. He also gave advice to current team members.

“It’s very good to have a game plan,” Howard told the In Soccer We Trust podcast. “But when these lights are lit against Wales, and the first loss occurs, and [a shot] whistle past the pole, do they look at each other and say, “OK, we keep playing, we keep sticking to this,” or do they say, “Oh my God, we’re really in the thick of it now,” and push the panic button?

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With 121 caps, Howard was the last goaltender to play between sticks for the United States in a World Cup. He led the team to a round of 16 match against Belgium in 2014 where he recorded 16 saves to send the game into extra time.

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Howard was also well aware of what needed to be changed after the team lost to Japan in a friendly match last week.

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“I like the centre-backs in the last game, but I think that [playing out of the back] does not use its strengths. The number of revolutions in its own half is impossible. This will never happen again if we expect to win a football match at this level,” he said.

Listen below and follow We Believe in Football: CBS Sports Soccer Podcast where three times a week your three favorite former USMNT players tell you everything you might want to know about the great game in the United States.

Howard said that Aaron Long and Walker Zimmerman could go through the lines, but the match against Japan was set up differently. The midfield could not keep the ball, which made life difficult for the defenders. After the loss to Japan, Tyler Adams stated that the team was not sticking to the game plan, and if the Americans did not regroup and find a solution together, they would not make it out of the group stage in Qatar.

Berhalter also took charge of the flat game, but if the team collectively doesn’t see open spaces on the pitch, it doesn’t matter what the game plan is in those matches. It’s something to look out for against the Green Falcons, but Howard wants to know if there’s a plan B because that team can’t dominate possession.

“The only thing that matters to me is winning football games,” Howard said. “So if we, as a player, give the ball 50 times in the first half, that’s not enough for me. That’s where leadership is needed.”

Being a strong enough leader to question the manager respectfully is critical to moving USMNT forward and with such a young team no one has taken the reins to be the undisputed leader in the locker room. Captaincy is shared, and while this places multiple players in charge of leadership, it’s hard to know who the real leader is.

One of the reasons it’s hard to have a plan B is because the team doesn’t have options to change pace. Howard said he would include Jordan Pefok in the team that faces Japan because he wants scorers to be “selfish, selfish and hungry for goals”. Team orientation is a good thing, but if the ball hits the net, it doesn’t matter how they got there. Pefok’s strength also poses problems for centre-backs, which could create more room for the wingers to grow. As worries about the American strikers grow, the calls for Pefok will grow and the calls will only get louder if the team doesn’t score against Saudi Arabia.

Howard is not worried about the lack of playing time in other areas of the squad, especially when it comes to Christian Pulisic, because the Chelsea winger is the most talented player in the national team. Howard believes Pulisic has earned his chances in England and will get more playing time under Graham Potter compared to Thomas Tuchel.

One area on the USMNT roster that concerns Howard is the goaltender. He is in awe of talented youngster Gabriel Slonina, who is likely to be sent on loan when he goes to Chelsea. But Howard shared the advice that Casey Keller, another former USMNT goaltender, once said: “You can’t judge a goaltender until they’ve played 100 games.” Slonina played 43 matches for the MLS Chicago Fire and showed her potential. But Howard said he needs to be developed so he doesn’t get lost in Chelsea’s loan army.

For the USMNT and the 2022 World Cup, goaltending duties will move to either Matt Turner or Zach Steffen. This World Cup created the perfect storm as Steffen and Ethan Horvath went on loan to secure crucial minutes, while Turner is currently Arsenal’s understudy. Rhythm is critical for a beginner goaltender, so leaning towards Steffen according to Howard and Berhalter.

Watch the full interview:


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