GOLD CUP CALL-UPS
Howard among those added
CITY» Team USA coach Bruce Arena used the group-play portion of the Gold Cup to look at some second-team players and give them tournament experience with the national team a year before the 2018 World Cup in Russia. But he called up six of the team’s most experienced veterans for the knockout phase that began Wednesday.
That group included Rapids goalkeeper Tim Howard, along with midfielder Michael Bradley and forward Clint Dempsey.
Howard said it was “huge” and “priceless” for secondary players to gain the experience they received in winning Group B with a tie against Panama and wins over Martinique and Nicaragua.
“In a World Cup year, the games are needed,” Howard told reporters in Philadelphia, where Team USA played El Salvador on Wednesday night in the Gold Cup quarterfinals. Howard was the starter in the 2-0 victory. “It’s hard to get guys games, and I think we’ve done a great job of giving guys valuable experience in big games, meaningful games. It’s real important for the young guys.”
Arena started 22 different players in the group stage. Players sent home to make way for the six players he called up included goalkeeper Brad Guzan, who’s well established as the team’s backup behind Howard.
“As we enter the knockout phase of the tournament, we’ve got to be ready to play each and every game, ‘Win and go on, lose and go home,’ ” said Arena, who replaced fired Jurgen Klinsmann as national team coach last November. “Bringing in some experienced players and players with quality is just going to make our team better.”
The U.S. will play the winner of of Costa RicaPanama in the tournament semifinal Saturday in Dallas. Many have predicted a U.S. vs. Mexico final next Wednesday in Santa Clara, Calif. Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio has elected to stay with the secondteam roster that won Group C, saying those players “deserve” to finish the biennial tournament.
“I don’t think there’s any first team or second team when those two teams (the U.S. and Mexico) play,” said Rapids coach Pablo Mastroeni, who played on U.S. teams that won the Gold Cup in 2005 and 2007. “That game transcends the players on the field. It speaks to legacy, it speaks to history. There’s been upsets on both sides — a lot of emotion. When there’s a lot of passion and emotion, reason flies out. It’s about the team that wants it the most, regardless of who is on the field.”
The Rapids play their first game in 18 days Saturday at Toronto. Mastroeni is grateful that when Howard is away with the national team, he has a more than capable replacement in Zac MacMath. MacMath was statistically the league’s best goalkeeper last season before Howard made his debut with the team July 4. They each made 17 regularseason starts in 2016 and MacMath had the better goals-allowed average (0.76 vs. 1.12 for Howard).
“This situation is unique,” Mastroeni said of MacMath. “He is a starting goalkeeper in this league, and when Tim does go away, the information doesn’t change, the level of motivation doesn’t change. He’s played at this level, he’s played well at this level, he’s got experience in this league, he’s done really well for us. It’s a great situation for any coach to have.”