Howard among those added

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By John Meyer

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.”

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