The 37-year-old Everton goalkeeper conceded twice inside the opening 15 minutes of Friday night's World Cup qualifier in Guatemala as Jurgen Klinsmann's side slipped to a 2-0 loss.
US national team goalkeeper Tim Howard has told ESPN FC that he believes his side's shock 2-0 World Cup qualifying defeat to Guatemala on Friday night was simply down to a failure to capitalise on their chances.
The US had not lost to Los Chapines since 1988 going into the match in Guatemala City – a 21-game unbeaten run that was their longest against any international opponent – and few anticipated that streak ending in their latest clash.
However, they were left shell-shocked on the night after the hosts quickly ran out to a two-goal lead, as Rafael Morales headed home a corner in the seventh minute before former MLS All-Star Carlos Ruiz latched onto a long goal-kick and slotted past Howard just eight minutes later to leave Jurgen Klinsmann’s side reeling.
The visitors dominated possession from then on, having 63 percent of the ball while outshooting their opponents 12-to-11, but a lack of cohesion and decisiveness left them unable to even find a consolation goal.
They now prepare for a rematch in Columbus this coming Tuesday, when a second straight defeat would leave them with an uphill battle to make the Hexagonal round of CONCACAF’s qualification campaign.
Trinidad and Tobago currently lead Group C with seven points after rallying to a 3-2 win over Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, while Guatemala sit one point in second. The US have four points and travel to last place St. Vincent in September before hosting Trinidad to complete the regional semi-finals, with the top two teams going through to the final round.
Failure to advance would be a categorical disaster for Klinsmann's men, but speaking to ESPN FC, Howard sounded somewhat dismissive of Guatemala’s chances of pulling off another shock result in the States next week.
“It comes down to us being able to stop them early on,” Howard said on the defeat. “We should have. We created a ton of chances. Lightning won’t strike twice for them.
"Their goalkeeper played really well, but we created good chances and outside of that they did nothing But yes, Carlos Ruiz is a handful and their goalkeeper played well, so hats off to them.
“It wasn’t good,” he continued. “It’s almost something that you can’t account for. We train all week, we work on things, everyone’s fired up and raring to go, but we get caught. At this level, it’s clearly not good enough, but we move on.
“They were straightforward Take away the two goals, they did nothing. They flopped around, they won fouls – that’s no surprise to us. They got it from the front to the back very quickly. They’re a long ball team of course. Once they got it stretched out they could play a little bit in the second half, but it was straightforward.”
Howard will not be playing in Tuesday night’s match, however, as he makes way for Brad Guzan as part of Klinsmann’s goalkeeping rotation plan.
The Everton man spent eight years as the USA’s no. 1 before taking a year-long break from the international game following the 2014 World Cup, giving long-time backup Guzan the chance to stake his claim for the job.
He returned to the fold in September but is now sharing starting duties with his Aston Villa counterpart before Klinsmann plans to choose his permanent No. 1 ahead of the summer’s Copa America Centenario.
Nevertheless, circumstances at the club level have raised questions over Howard’s place in the squad. The experienced custodian, who turned 37 earlier this month, has not featured for Everton for several weeks after losing his place to Joel Robles following a poor run of form and is now set to leave the Premier League to join the Colorado Rapids in the summer.
A return to MLS may ultimately benefit him given the guaranteed playing time, but the fact he could have done better on both of Guatemala’s goals – proving slow to react on the first and getting his angles all wrong on the second – did little to quell the concerns about his recent decline.