The U.S. men's national soccer team has gone through plenty of struggles over the last few years, but one thing USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann never had to worry about was the performance of his starting goalkeepers.
But as the first matches of a busy 2016 start to creep up on the Yanks, Klinsmann is in a precarious situation due to the bad form and injuries that have hit his top netminders over the last few months.
Tim Howard and Brad Guzan were installed as co-starters once the Everton man returned from his year-long sabbatical in October, but neither experienced player has garnered rave reviews across the pond in the Premier League this season.
Klinsmann would've had an easy answer to the problem presented by Howard and Guzan's bad form, but that went out the window last week as D.C. United's Bill Hamid, who many see as the successor to the England-based pair, was declared out with a knee injury, per Steven Goff of the Washington Post.
With the first two CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers of the year just over two months away and the Copa America Centenario on the horizon in June, it would be ideal for Klinsmann to find a No. 1 goalkeeper that can carry his club form into the international level and help the Yanks thrive at the highest level possible.
It is highly likely Klinsmann sticks with both Howard and Guzan in the near future, but the brutal reality is neither player looks capable of carrying the Yanks from in between the pipes. Outside of his terrific outing against Manchester City on Wednesday, Howard has looked average at best for Everton.
In 22 appearances for the Toffees this season, Howard has six clean sheets, and he has conceded three or more goals on five occasions, including Saturday's 3-3 draw with Chelsea. While the 36-year-old has not been at fault for every goal he's conceded in league play, he has made some questionable decisions in plenty of matches.
"At this moment I feel Mark (Bunn) gives more confidence to the team," Garde told Gregg Evans of the Birmingham Mail after Villa's 1-1 draw with Leicester City on Saturday. "What he did today was good as well.”
With Howard failing to impress and Guzan spending plenty of time on the bench, one has to wonder how fresh either player will be when the two matches against Guatemala roll around on March 25 and 29. The easy solution to that problem would have been to insert Hamid into the starting lineup and see what he could have done on the international level.
But now that the 25-year-old will be sidelined for the start of the Major League Soccer season, there is a possibility we could see someone new in net if Klinsmann were to opt for the player in form instead of the goalkeeper with the most experience.
Nick Rimando's name will probably enter the discussion of who should start, but it is important to note the Real Salt Lake man is 36, and he won't be around on the international stage for much longer. Although he could serve as a solid starter in March, Rimando wouldn't be someone to build chemistry around heading into the Copa America Centenario and the rest of World Cup qualifying.
The next three options on the depth chart are the netminders currently participating in the USMNT's annual January camp.
Luis Robles is more than deserving of a start in net after a great season with the New York Red Bulls. Sean Johnson has been around the USMNT for a while, but he hasn't cracked the top three on a consistent basis. The San Jose Earthquakes' David Bingham is still a rising prospect in the USMNT camp, and he may be too raw on the international stage to throw in net against Guatemala.
The same argument can be made about Robles due to his lack of time with the USMNT, but he does carry with him European experience and great form from the past two years with the Red Bulls.
One has to assume whoever starts against Iceland and Canada will get a better look at the third spot on the goalkeeping depth chart for the March matches.
There is one other option that Klinsmann should consider strongly for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers. Molde's Ethan Horvath made waves over the last few months in Europe, thanks to his stellar performances throughout the group stage of the UEFA Europa League. The Norwegian side finished atop Group A and will face Sevilla in the round of 32 on February 18 and 25.
Horvath only has a few appearances at the U23 level for the Yanks, but he is arguably the best goalkeeping prospect under 24 at the moment.
The 20-year-old could end up with the U23 squad in the two-legged Olympic qualifying playoff against Colombia during the March international window. However, if Klinsmann wants to see what Horvath is all about at the senior level, Cody Cropper, Jon Kempin or Zack Steffen could start for the U23s.
Unlike the trouble spots at full-back, Klinsmann has plenty of quality options to choose from when it comes to selecting his starting goalkeeper. If Howard and Guzan continue to disappoint at the club level, Klinsmann may have no choice but to select a goalkeeper with a rising stock to start for the red, white and blue in March.
With the important litmus test of the Copa America Centenario ahead in six months, Klinsmann needs to find a permanent solution to the goalkeeping conundrum sooner rather than later.
With a multitude of options to choose from, Klinsmann should be able to solve the problem in time to give the Yanks the best chance to be competitive in the historic tournament this summer.
Joe Tansey covers U.S. Soccer for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @JTansey90.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!