Arena says Guzan could start next month, Howard could return

FILE - In this June 25, 2016, file photo, United States goalkeeper Tim Howard (12) stops a shot on goal against Colombia during the second half of the Copa America Centenario third-place soccer match at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. Howard may return from leg surgery in time for next month's World Cup qualifiers against Honduras and Panama, according to U.S. coach Bruce Arena. (AP Photo/Matt York, File)

NEW YORK — Brad Guzan could start for the U.S. in critical World Cup qualifiers against Honduras and Panama next month despite his lack of playing time with Middlesbrough, and Tim Howard may return from leg surgery in time to be included in the roster.

U.S. coach Bruce Arena said Thursday he was impressed by recent performances of Hamburg forward Bobby Wood and Bayer Leverkusen midfielder Christian Pulisic. Arena also said Nottingham Forest defender Eric Lichaj and Tijuana winger Paul Arriola, who have not been national team regulars, would be given strong consideration for the training camp in San Jose, California, ahead of the qualifiers against Honduras on March 24 and at Panama four days later.

Stuck behind Victor Valdes, Guzan has made just two appearances for Middlesbrough since August: in the Premier League against Leicester on Jan. 2 and in the FA Cup versus Sheffield Wednesday six days later.

"Because they're not getting games on a consistent basis doesn't mean you can rule them out," Arena said during a telephone conference call. "And I think Brad has shown enough that he's still a strong candidate to be our number-one goalkeeper."

Howard, 37 and the U.S. starter at the last two World Cups, regained the starting job last fall after transferring from Everton to Colorado, then fractured a bone in his right upper groin during the first half of the 2-1 qualifying loss to Mexico. Guzan, 32, finished the match and played in the 4-0 loss at Costa Rica that caused the U.S. Soccer Federation to fire Jurgen Klinsmann and bring back Arena, the American coach from 1998-2006.

The U.S. is last at 0-2 in the final round of the North and Central American and Caribbean region but the top three teams qualify and No. 4 advances to a playoff, so there is time to recover.

Howard had surgery Nov. 17.

"The expectation for him is his full recovery would be between 12 and 16 weeks, so he's on schedule to hopefully start in the first week with the Major League Soccer season.," Arena said, looking ahead to the Rapids' opener on March 4. "Having said that, could be off a couple weeks and perhaps he won't be a candidate for March. But right now he's in the picture."

Stoke defender Geoff Cameron, who hasn't played since injuring a knee on Oct. 22, is another possibility for the March roster.

"He's making progress and he'll be back in full training shortly," Arena said.

Arena's first two games back, a 0-0 tie against Serbia and a 1-0 win over Jamaica, followed a January training camp of players nearly all from Major League Soccer. Arena and his assistants intend to travel meet with players during the next few weeks.

"We understand how we're going to play," he said. "We have a depth chart and we're going to sit down, have some conversations, make sure the players understand what we're trying to do before they even get here."

Arena has moved captain Michael Bradley into a deeper position and has sought better passing from the midfield. Alejandro Bedoya, Sacha Kljestan, Benny Feilhaber, Darlington Nagbe and Sebastian Lletget are candidates for that role.

Asked whether the January camp narrowed or expanded his player pool, Arena responded: "I think it helped confuse a lot of things." Then he chuckled.

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