CARSON, Calif. – The fight would seem to be for No. 3 on the depth chart, behind Everton's Tim Howard and Aston Villa's Brad Guzan. But the approach the three goalkeepers in the US national team camp are taking is wholly different.
Houston Dynamo's Tally Hall, D.C. United's Bill Hamid and Chicago Fire's Sean Johnson would love to be on the roster – would love to be in the nets – for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers, starting Feb. 6 in San Pedro Sula vs. Honduras. But right now they're looking to perfect their craft, grow as goalkeepers, show Jurgen Klinsmann and his staff what they can do, and then let things fall where they may.
“The mentality never changes,” said Johnson, 23, who has been in five US camps and made appearances after each of the last two January camps. “You come in, you work hard, you want to prove yourself day in and day out, so you never get comfortable. That's the last thing you want to do is relax and get comfortable. Because someone else is nipping at your heels.”
Hamid, 22, was on the bench in six of the first seven US friendlies under Klinsmann, and he debuted against Venezuela at last year's January camp.
“At the end of the day, all you can do is control the controllables,” he said. “You know that Tim and Brad are quite special – that's why they're in the EPL. I've looked up to those guys for a long time, but now they're competition and, at the same time, teammates. It's all respect, and there's only one guy judging, Jurgen Klinsmann, so hopefully he sees the hard work I'm putting in.”
Klinsmann says that Howard, the first-choice US keeper since 2007, is “undoubtedly” No. 1, with Guzan No. 2 and Real Salt Lake's Nick Rimando, who missed this camp with a shoulder injury, in the No. 3 slot.
“We want to see now the next ones in line, and there are many more out there,” Klinsmann said. “Obviously, we have to limit it to a certain number, but it gives us an opportunity to see them on a daily basis, to see them when they're tired, to see them when they struggle maybe and how fast they can recover, how fast they can put maybe a bad mistake behind themselves. It's for us a great learning time.”
Hall, 27, is in his first US camp following a superb 2012 campaign with the Dynamo. He says he's “not too concerned about what this camp will lead to. That's not how I approach the game. ... I'm coming in here and doing my best. I'm trying to show the coaches the best that I can be, and if they think that's good enough to be on the team in any of those numbers – one, two or three – then that will make me very happy.”
“[The World Cup is] my goal as a player,” said Johnson, who, like Hamid, has trained during the past couple offseasons with English clubs, including three weeks in December split between Stoke City and Everton. “I think first and foremost [I want to] better myself as a goalkeeper every year. I want to challenge myself and play at higher level one day, and that may be, hopefully, the Premier League. 'Keepers have done it – Tim Howard, Brad Friedel, Brad Guzan. All those guys are at that level now, so that’s what I'm pushing myself to. I believe if I keep going, keep working hard at it, I'll get there.”
Could a domestic keeper vault past the EPL standouts to the No. 1 position?
“Oh, anything is possible in football,” Klinsmann said. “It [can change] overnight. ... I think with the far more consistent approach now to MLS – having 19 teams, having more games, the stretch of 40-45 first-team matches [in a season] – it gives them a far better balance than they ever had before. So why not as an MLS goalkeeper making it to No. 1 for the US team?”