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International Football: If the USMNT Could Field Goalkeepers in Every Position

Sean BabcockCorrespondent IISeptember 7, 2011

International Football: If the USMNT Could Field Goalkeepers in Every Position

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    On many international match days, I can be found with a cold beer in my hand enjoying the match with my brother, who is as much of a world football fan as anybody I know.

    Often times, when things take a turn for the worst and it becomes agonizingly clear that the U.S. is in for another tough defeat at the hands of the opposition, we try not to take it too hard.

    Instead, we laugh and joke at the expense of our boys on the pitch. Tuesday's international friendly against Belgium was no exception.

    Late into the match, our frustrations boiled over when my brother exclaimed, "I just don't see why anybody would think that Jozy Altidore is a good striker."

    "I know," I replied. "But who would you seriously start instead? The striker isn't exactly America's defining position."

    That distinction, as many have pointed out in the past, goes exclusively to America's goalkeepers. Which led to the question: "Wouldn't it be awesome if we could just field keepers in every position?"

    "Honestly, I'd take Tim Howard over Jozy Altidore up front any day," he fired back. "At least Timmy has a decent sense of where the goal is half the time."

    And thus began hours of musing over which keepers would best fit which positions for USMNT.

    If the goalkeeper is truly America's greatest contribution to world football, then why not put that talent to use?

Left-Back: Kasey Keller

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    "So if Timmy Howard is playing forward, then who would you put in goal?" I asked my brother. "Friedel?"

    "Maybe Friedel. What about Kasey Keller, though? Defense?"

    I laughed at the suggestion, mostly because I was already imagining Keller and thought of him playing left-back on an all-goalkeepers squad.

    "Yeah, I was just thinking that," I told him. And we agreed. Left back, for the United States' all-time leading presence in the international goal.

    It's not that either of us necessarily agreed that our current hometown Seattle-area hero would make a particularly fine defensive winger, or that his pace would likely allow him to keep up with the world's best down the touchline.

    It's just that, when you think about it, it would be awesome. So Kasey Keller is our pick for the USMNT's new left-back. You know, just because.

Center-Back: Brad Friedel

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    This is where I have to make my own variations from the formula initially suggested in the conversation that started this whole idea.

    Brad Friedel would make a fantastic replacement for Tim Howard in goal if Timmy were moved into a forward position.

    But I can't help but think that he would be even more valuable (at least in this scenario) as a center-back.

    Friedel has all the makings of a central defender.

    He's big (he used to play basketball and even tried out for the team at UCLA), he's bulky, he has quick reflexes and he is an established and reliable wall between opposing teams and the back of the net.

    The only condition to this assignment: Friedel has to play upfield on set-piece scoring opportunities.

    As the only goalkeeper on the squad to ever record a goal of his own on the professional level (with Blackburn against Charlton Athletic in 2004), he has to be allowed to let that skill shine.

Center-Back: Marcus Hahnemann

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    The no nonsense former Reading goalkeeper, Marcus Hahnemann, may not have had what it takes to make Wolverhampton's squad in 2011-12.

    But he certainly has the makings of a quality center-back in this little thought experiment.

    Hahnemann has several years of experience in English football, so he'll certainly have the know-how to predict the tricky movements of attackers trying to create space.

    And, like Friedel, he's tall and strong and more than capable of holding his own when it comes to defending crosses into the box.

    After his release from Wolverhampton at the end of last season, he will be eager to impress in the new role as well, as he hopes to avoid retirement for another couple of years.

    In any case, he'll probably at least outperform Clarence Goodson, whose slip-up against Belgium gave the dangerous Romelu Lukaku plenty of space to make the scoreline 2-0 if he hadn't missed over the bar in the resulting one-on-one against Tim Howard.

Right-Back: Bill Hamid

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    Young, strong and agile, DC United's Bill Hamid is looking like a pretty solid option at right-back for the USMNT all-goalkeepers squad.

    A product of United's youth system, the 20-year-old is already looking to be next in line in a long list of impressive American goalkeepers.

    And since goalkeepers appear to be the only position that America is capable of developing successfully (unless your name is Clint Dempsey or Landon Donovan), he is more than welcome to spend the meantime trying his luck on the defensive wing.

    Hamid possesses the rare combination of size and agility that would help him excel in this role (by American standards).

    My thought in this selection is my prediction of his ability fly down the touchline and add a decisive offensive spark to the back line.

    Of course, it's tough to predict whether or not his explosive nature would manifest in such a way outside of goal because he's never had to.

    We've never seen him really have to sprint for much more than a few yards.

    Would he possess the skill to be successful as the USMNT's new right-back? I certainly hope so. You know, for this thing I'm writing about that's never going to happen.

Holding-Mid: Zach Thornton

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    If the U.S. is really going to field an all-goalkeepers squad (I keep talking about it as though it's totally a possibility), then they're probably going to be left fairly vulnerable to the skills possessed by the opposing sides.

    For this reason, a defensive midfielder is essential. So which American keeper can fill that role? My vote goes to Zach Thornton.

    He's a big, experienced player at the American professional level, and more than eager to get into the mix of things when the box is crowded.

    I can personally see him taking the same initiative to dispossess opponents in the midfield and even slow things down with a tactical foul or two.

    The best part: you can be damn sure a tactical foul from Thornton is going to leave you limping for at least a couple of minutes.

Left-Mid: Brad Guzan

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    Many of America's top goalkeepers are, unfortunately, starting to get a bit up there in age.

    At 26, Brad Guzan should still retain enough of that youthful stamina required to fill one of footballs more demanding roles: outside mid.

    Being left-footed, Guzman is obviously suited for the left side of the pitch.

    His experience in England with Aston Villa and Hull City should provide him plenty of know-how when it comes to filling roles outside of his comfort zone.

    Guzan also has a pretty solid reputation for halfway decent distribution.

    From the left wing, if that distribution from his own box can translate into good distribution into the other one, then the USMNT could be looking at its next left-midfielder when the inevitable roster shakeups go down after yesterday's friendly.

Center-Mid: Matt Pickens

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    The greatest thing about having an idea like this is that it will never, ever happen. By any means.

    For that reason, it's really not necessary for me to provide detailed explanations for why each goalkeeper would be assuming each position on the pitch in a scenario that exists only in my own head.

    Which is great, because I have absolutely no explanation as to why I think Matt Pickens would play in central midfield, aside from the fact that he just looks good there in my crazy little brain.

    I don't know. Maybe it's that facial hair.

    Pickens is a man who has been so close to the edge of success overseas, having signed with QPR in 2008 only to be released a few months later after sustaining a dislocated shoulder.

    While I'm rooting for him to eventually succeed at that level in one way or another, at some point in his (hopefully near) future, I simply can't deny that his appearance has "cocky mid" written all over it.

Right-Mid: Sean Johnson

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    At, we're once again going to use Sean Johnson's youth to fill one of the more demanding and physically exhausting roles on the pitch: right-mid.

    Johnson is one of the more explosive keepers in Major League Soccer right now, which I'm again hoping would translate into some pretty decent runs down the touchline.

    And even at his young age, and with Tim Howard filling such a consistently reliable role in the United States' goal, Johnson already has a cap to his name.

    Still, this selection might worry some of you, given Sean Johnson's overall lack of experience in professional level football.

    To those people, I say this: are you kidding me? Kasey Keller as left-back is fine with you, but Johnson is too inexperienced to play the right wing?

    Maybe next time you'll think before I imagine you saying something as stupid as that, yeah?

Forward: Nick Rimando

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    As the shortest goalkeeper on this list, it's kind of entertaining to imagine little Real Salt Lake's little Nick Rimando playing a forward position.

    But something tells me he'd play the position better than most of the others.

    With halfway-decent footwork and pretty consistent vision on the pitch, Rimando could easily emerge as one of the greatest goal scorers in U.S. goalkeeper history (in possibly becoming one of the only goal scorers in U.S. goalkeeper history).

    He's got the resilience and the drive to fill the role, and the taste of success required to create the drive seen in some of the best forwards in football today.

    Alongside Tim Howard, Nick Rimando could be half of a dream team in the forward striking position for the U.S.

Forward: Tim Howard

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    He's the goalkeeper that started this dream in the first place, as my brother and I mused over the possible replacements of an underachieving Jozy Altidore as the USMNT's starting striker.

    Keeping to the original parameters of those musings, Howard is the man for the job.

    Would Tim Howard really steal the show in a starting role as a forward for the United States? Probably not. And yet, none of these players are likely to do that, are they?

    The point is, America produces some very impressive, top-notch goalkeepers, with Howard being perhaps one of the greatest Americans to ever grace the pitch. But there's not much more that we have to offer than that.

    I guess the moral of this fun little game lies somewhere near a message about improving the American youth programs to finally compete on the international level. Complaining about who we field in positions that aren't in goal don't do much good when the options are as limited as they are.

    But why ruin this with morals? Just imagine Timmy placing a well-timed shot from outside of the box just out of the opposing keeper's reach. Just for the fun of it. 

Goalkeeper: Mike Magee

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    The final piece of the puzzle, ironically enough, is of course the goalkeeper.

    But with all of our best keepers occupied in their various new roles, who is to fill in?

    As any good American soccer fan knows, there's only one thing to do when you're out of keepers and the clock is ticking: throw the oversized jersey on LA Galaxy midfielder Mike Magee, and let him work his magic.

    The last time Magee was in goal, he shut out the opposition and won the MLS Player of the Week award for his efforts.

    He even came up with some big saves to keep the score level as his side played a full half (and then some) with only 10 men.

    Since we're shaking things up so much in this little mental experiment, why not put a midfielder in goal? 

    But, if you really need more reason than that, consider this: Mike Magee is literally the only undefeated keeper on this list.

    He is the only one to never, in his entire career as a keeper, concede a goal to the opposition.

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