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Howard to start third-place game, re-opening question of No. 1 goalkeeper

Gary Rohman-USA TODAY Sports

Is Brad Guzan definitely the U.S.' No. 1 goalkeeper? For now, but Tim Howard is hardly out of the picture, Scott French writes.

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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Tim Howard will get his third competitive start for the United States since returning from a one-year leave when the Yanks take on Colombia in the Copa America Centenario third-place game. And although it's not meant to reflect on Brad Guzan's performance in the national team's nets, it suggests the battle for the No. 1 job going forward is ongoing.

Jurgen Klinsmann in his prematch news conference Friday afternoon reported that Howard, the No. 1 U.S. keeper from 2006 through 2014, would get the start in Saturday evening's clash at the University of Phoenix Stadium.

Guzan, 31, who has been the Yanks' first-choice netminder since Howard stepped away from the squad in August 2014, has played every minute for the U.S. in the Centenario. He's been outstanding at times, especially in the victory over Paraguay to claim the Group A title, and less so at others, standing like a statue as Ezequiel Lavezzi started Argentina's 4-0 semifinal romp in the third minute.

“One change I can definitely anticipate is Tim Howard will get this game tomorrow here because he's been outstanding to help the team go all the way through this tournament to the final four,” Klinsmann said while discussing how he would approach his lineup for the third-place match. “[He's being rewarded for] helping Brad Guzan wherever he could, keeping the spirit [within the team] very positive, and pushing from behind.

“Brad Guzan played a tremendous, good tournament. If you look at the game be played with Costa Rica, if it's Paraguay, if it's the Ecuador game, he's done tremendously well and he's totally on board with the fact to give Tim this game.”

Howard, 37, is among the greatest goalkeepers in national team history, following in the footsteps on National Soccer Hall of Famers Tony Meola and Kasey Keller and also Brad Friedel, a slam-dunk Hall-of-Famer once he's eligible for induction in 2018. He's made 107 appearances for the U.S., serving as the first choice keeper from immediately following the 2006 World Cup through the 2014 World Cup.

Guzan served as Howard's backup for most of that span and has 49 U.S. caps. He's the de facto No. 1 at the moment, but Howard, who lost his starting job at Everton in February and left the club last month, will be seeing regular action in MLS. He's expected to supplant Zach MacMath in the Colorado Rapids' nets starting with the Fourth of July home game against the Portland Timbers.

Guzan has been in and out of the lineup at Aston Villa, which was relegated to England's second-tier Championship for next season, and there is reported interest in him from at least two Premier League clubs.

Howard, whose 10-year tenure at Everton ended last month, took a year off to spend more time with his family. He returned to the U.S. team last September and saw his first action afterward in the loss to Costa Rica in the friendly four days after the CONCACAF Cup defeat against Mexico. He played in the World Cup qualifiers last November at Trinidad and Tobago, a scoreless draw, and in March at Guatemala, a 2-0 defeat. He played the second half of the May 22 friendly at Puerto Rico.

“Anytime you take a year off, you open doors for other people,” Howard told FourFourTwo as the U.S. began preparations last month for the Centenario. “But I knew that going into the decision. That was all part of the decision-making process. When I tell people it wasn't easy, that's part of the reason.”

The game against Colombia could be huge for Howard, as will be his performances for the Rapids, who at 9-2-5 are atop the Western Conference and Supporters' Shield tables. He's aiming to be the starter at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, assuming the Yanks qualify as expected.

“I want to be a part of this team between now and certainly the end of 2018,” Howard said, “and that's going to take as many different shapes between now and then. I just keep pushing as hard as I can and do what I can. Jurgen will make those decisions.”

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Scott French is a reporter for FourFourTwo. Follow him on Twitter @ScottJFrench.