U.S. have 'massive job' ahead but Gregg Berhalter 'without question the right hire' - Tim Howard
In an exclusive interview with ESPN FC Friday, longtime United States goalkeeper Tim Howard said he "loves the youth that we have in our country [the United States]" but admitted new manager Gregg Berhalter still "has a massive job" on his hands to get the USMNT back on track.
Howard added that he is "interested" in the future of U.S. Soccer, but said "figuring out who are the best players" and "cutting down to your best 23 players is a monumental task."
"As much as we've done over the last year in evaluating all this talent from around the world and we talk about this youth movement, from what I've seen, I'm not sure they are not all cut out to play for the national team, and that is part of the evaluation process," Howard said. "But I do love the youth that we have in our country and the amount of players playing around the world, playing big roles, playing Champions League roles and playing at big clubs, and that will bode well for us."
The 39-year-old also spoke strongly in support of the hiring of Berhalter, his former teammate on the national team, who was officially announced as the new U.S. manager Dec. 2.
"He's without question the right hire," Howard said. "He's a guy, who as much as he has this calm demeanor, he's no-nonsense and that's how he was as a defender. If you watch his Columbus Crew teams, they play very well out of the back, they possess the ball, they press well and that's football now in 2019. I think he's a breath of fresh air."
After a 2018 full of transition and experimentation, the United States open their first training camp under Berhalter on Jan. 7. The team will play friendlies with Panama and Costa Rica in the coming weeks to begin 2019.
Howard identified "time" as Berhlater's biggest challenge in taking over a new-look national team, one that has undergone a real makeover in the last 12-14 months.
"We have lost an entire year, and that Gold Cup 2019 is looming large, and I believe very quickly after that, World Cup qualifying starts, so there is not a lot of time to prepare the team," Howard said. "As much as we talk about how much time that is in months, the ability for him to actually get his hands on this team, you are talking maybe a camp in March and maybe a camp at the end of May somewhere. So not a lot of time."
Shrinking the player pool and zeroing in on the core group for the next qualifying cycle will be another big challenge for Berhalter, according to Howard.
"With any national team, particularly one in transition, you have to figure out who the old guard is, which of the players who used to be features in the team are now willing to accept less of a role," Howard said. "If they can do that, they should be on the team, and if not, you probably should part ways."
Howard himself did not rule out a national team return, saying he would be "ready, willing and able" if called upon.
All 28 players participating in Berhalter's January camp are currently based in the MLS, with the U.S. scheduled to open 2019 against Panama on Jan. 27 in Glendale, Arizona.