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Jurgen Klinsmann says Brad Guzan has earned a U.S. start; he most certainly has

Oct 13, 2013, 3:34 PM EDT

Brad Guzan of the U.S. blocks a shot from Costa Rica's Alvaro Saborio during their 2014 World Cup qualifying soccer match in Commerce City

Just so there is no confusion, Tim Howard remains the unquestioned U.S. starter in goal for Jurgen Klinsmann’s national team, as well ensconced in his role as anyone this side of Michael Bradley. No one should read too much into Jurgen Klinsmann’s decision to give Brad Guzan the start Tuesday in Panama.

Klinsmann has said repeatedly that Howard is his starter, and the longtime Premier League man has done little to undermine his position.

Besides, in previous final-day World Cup qualifiers, when safe passage into the tournament or into the next round is assured, managers have frequently included a few of the trusted backups. It’s just a reasonable thing to do, rewarding the understudies and protecting the front line men.

There is some significance, however, in seeing Guzan get a start. First, it’s a reminder that Guzan is having an outstanding calendar year. The window of achievement actually started in late summer of 2012, when Guzan took the job at Aston Villa from Shay Given, putting a choke hold on the position and never looking close to giving it back.

(MORE: Guzan happy at Villa, downplays Arsenal chatter)  

Guzan was huge in filling in for the injured Howard early this spring, in the snowy white win over Costa Rica and then in the scoreless draw in Mexico. Both performances were tremendous demonstrations of composure under intense pressure.

Guzan getting a start here also underscores the exceptional depth Klinsmann has in goal right now. If Howard were to be injured between now and next summer’s World Cup in Brazil, the United States would hardly suffer.

Finally, it does remind us that Guzan continues to push Howard, who probably needs pushing. He hasn’t really been challenged for years at Everton nor with the national team. While Howard remains as professional as they come, nothing squeezes the most quality from an athlete like a true challenge for his position.

Howard did OK on Friday, for instance, but probably needed to handle a couple of Jamaican balls into his six-yard box with just a little more certainty. Yes, it’s nit-picky, but when you have a figure like Guzan around, you can get a bit nit-picky. That’s the point; he can be better and probably knows that he needs to be.

“Brad Guzan has earned the opportunity to start against Panama,” Klinsmann said. “He has been outstanding for Aston Villa all year, and he has been huge in the games he has played for us in World Cup Qualifying. As I said before, we have one of the best situations in the world when it comes to our goalkeepers.”

(MORE: U.S. releases Howard, three others back to their clubs)

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