Tim Howard is one of the best keepers in the world. It would be asinine to suggest that the United States is better off without him.
His presence between the posts is missed. Yet in his absence the U.S. can grow in to being a better team.
That is the silver lining.
With Howard in goal there is an instant sense of security. The defense may still try hard, but they know who is there to save their backsides in case they make a mistake. Now, without Howard, they don't have that safety blanket. They are more conscious of their play.
I believe we saw that in Azteca.
I hesitate to say they are trying harder now. Are they ever giving less than 100 percent? Not likely. What is likely is that the loss of the safety net has heightened their awareness. Their senses have been refreshed in his absence.
Howard's departure will also give more playing time to his backups. Brad Guzan, Sean Johnson and Nick Rimando will get better with more practice. It will be important to have a backup ready in case something happens to Howard again after he returns .
And it is not only the back line that is effected.
The midfield has to become more possession minded. They must control the matches.
In the past, the U.S. has repeatedly given up possession. The midfield has put undue pressure on the defense to stop a counter attack. Without Howard, it becomes even more important that they minimize their mistakes.
To steal a term from baseball, it is time to play “small ball.” Going for home runs and swinging away is not going to get it done. Play it safe. Make the sure pass.
If the U.S. can improve in these areas it will only help them become a better team for when Howard returns. It is time to take that next step in their progression as individual players in their roles, and as a collective team.
They can rally as a team and play better together. If that happens the U.S. will be an even more dangerous team than they already are. Of course, the other side of that coin is getting back to full strength.
When the U.S. played in Azteca against Mexico they were hurting. It was not just Donovan and Howard who were absent. The U.S. is getting deeper. Talent is not few and far between as it once was. Now, we are seeing younger players step up in to roles and making the squad better with every match.
Time will tell if Howard's injury actually helps the team grow, but the U.S. has the opportunity to learn to become a better all-around team without his help.
They can rally around this and come out on the other side stronger than before.