BOSTON – Brad Guzan is hoping U.S. coaches have an easy decision when they pick a replacement for starting goalkeeper Tim Howard while he takes a yearlong sabbatical from the men's national team.
And then Guzan wants them to have a difficult choice when — and if — Howard returns.
The Aston Villa starter is competing with Nick Rimando of Real Salt Lake to fill in for Howard, the breakout star of the Americans' run in this year's World Cup, during his international sabbatical. Each potential replacement played a half in last month's 1-0 exhibition win at the Czech Republic, and coach Jurgen Klinsmann says it is a two-man tryout for the job.
"It creates an opportunity," goalkeeping coach Chris Woods said Monday before the men's national team practiced at Harvard to prepare for Friday's exhibition in East Hartford, Connecticut, against Ecuador. "Both guys have got to look at it and say, 'I want to be the one who takes that opportunity.'"
The United States' goalkeeping leader with 104 appearances and 55 wins, Howard has played every minute in the last two World Cups for the Americans — including a 15-save performance in the second-round, extra-time loss to Belgium in Brazil. But he said in August that he will take a year off from the national team, asking Klinsmann not to consider him for the roster until next September because he wants to spend some time with his family during international breaks.
That created an opening for Guzan, who is the favorite to inherit the No. 1 job. He is 30 — five years younger than Rimando — and has been playing in the EPL against tougher competition than Rimando has in Major League Soccer.
"Ultimately, you try to make it tough for the manager come selection time, and make it to the last 11," Guzan said before practice. "You have to seize the moment, because in soccer you don't know when the next chance it going to come."
And that means Guzan isn't just trying to be a fill-in; he's trying to replace Howard permanently.
"That's what it's about: Making it tough on the manager, to not only select me but to keep me on the field," Guzan said. "When you get the chance, you don't want to give it up."
Woods said there have been no promises made to Howard that he will get his job back.
"I think Tim realizes he's got to be playing at the level he showed at the World Cup," the former England goalkeeper said. "At the same time, he understands the situation: If the other goalkeepers come in, it is going to be a competition. It depends on how the others perform as well."
Guzan played for Chivas USA in MLS from 2005-08 before going to England, spending four seasons as the Villans' backup and the last three as the starter. Howard, 35 and in his ninth season as Everton's starter, had spoken with him, and Guzan was not surprised by the decision to take a break.
"Obviously, he's getting older and at some point there's going to be a change," Guzan said. "Whether it's sooner or later, that's going to be up to him."
An NCAA champion at UCLA, Rimando started for the U.S. when it won the 2013 Gold Cup and was the third 'keeper at the World Cup this summer. He is also the MLS career leader in shutouts.
"We've been fortunate with a great line of goalkeepers in this country, and I'm just trying to step in," Guzan said. "Goalkeepers are unique in that only one goalkeeper can play every game. There's only one of you."
The Ecuador game at the University of Connecticut's Rentschler Field will mark the international finale for Landon Donovan, a national team mainstay who was left off the roster for Brazil by Klinsmann. The Americans reached the round of 16 before losing to Belgium.
"It's exciting," Guzan said. "It's a chance to kind of show Landon how grateful we are as a country and a team for his contributions."