Tim Howard got a rare day off on Saturday, when Toffees manager Roberto Martinez rested the U.S. goalkeeper for Everton’s 4-0 FA Cup third-round win against QPR. Yet it still makes sense to mention Howard here, in our very first Hot List of 2014.
Last year, the 34-year-old's game was the subject of much scrutiny from U.S. fans, many of whom would have been happy to see the Americans' longtime No. 1 removed from the lineup in favor of the younger Brad Guzan -- particularly after the Aston Villa backstop pitched a pair of shutouts in two World Cup qualifiers in March while Howard was injured.
By the end of 2013, though, those clamoring for a switch had (mostly) been silenced. Howard finished the calendar year with an EPL-best 16 clean sheets. This season, his .773 save percentage tops the league among keepers with more than 15 starts (Guzan's is .707). The stingy numbers have helped make Howard's status as the surefire U.S. starter as secure as ever. Howard's been playing so well, in fact, that he may want to keep on representing his country beyond Brazil 2014.
"Right now, I lean toward thinking I want to be part of the next four years," Howard, who has hinted at international retirement in the past, told the blog in November.
"I love to play, I love the manager [Jurgen Klinsmann], but a lot comes into it: How much time I want to spend with my kids, if my club career is suffering. This summer I'll be 35. What I look like at 35 might be a lot different than what I look like at 39, so it’s a tough question," he said. "But if I’m fully fit and playing really well, who knows?"
Another U.S. lock who didn’t see the field during the weekend was Michael Bradley, and perhaps that's good. The American, who had made two consecutive starts, was left out of coach Rudi Garcia's oddly aggressive XI at Serie A-leading Juventus, and the visitors lost 3-0 -- their first defeat this season. With Daniele De Rossi facing a suspension following a second-half red card, Bradley figures to return to Garcia's lineup next week against Genoa. Many other Americans did feature this weekend, including former U.S. U20 standout Sebastian Lletget, 21, who gets a shoutout after making his first-team debut for EPL side West Ham in a lopsided FA Cup loss to Eric Lichaj and Nottingham Forest.
The week's biggest movers are below. Warming up
Joe Corona, M, Club Tijuana (Mexico)
Why he’s here: Corona was used sparingly last season under former Xolos coach Jorge Almiron, which sent him tumbling down the U.S. depth chart. But the 23-year-old started the Clausura season -- which began with Saturday's scoreless draw at Atlas -- in new boss Cesar Farias' starting lineup.
What this means: With others -- Alejandro Bedoya, Mix Diskerud, Sacha Kljestan -- still ahead of him, Corona remains a long shot to make the World Cup roster. Playing regularly again in Liga MX gives him a fighting chance, but only if he performs well. Herculez Gomez, M-F, Club Tijuana (Mexico)
Why he's here: The 31-year-old, plagued by knee trouble during his first six months with Tijuana, entered the new season healthy and went 90 minutes in the opener.
What this means: Gomez, a starter under Klinsmann until his injury, will have to shake the rust quickly. With young forwards Terrence Boyd and Aron Johannsson scoring regularly in Austria and the Netherlands, respectively, it may take another late run in a World Cup year -- Gomez was Liga MX's joint goal leader in early 2010 -- to book a trip to Brazil. Brek Shea, M, Barnsley (England)
Why he's here: With just one appearance this season for Premier League Stoke, Shea, 23, was loaned to the Championship bottom-feeder Jan. 1 and made a "fantastic" impact in a 1-1 draw with Birmingham City, according to Barnsley coach Danny Wilson.
What this means: The deal expires at the end of January, but a month's worth of regular playing time would be a godsend for Shea, who's made just five appearances since arriving in England a year ago. If the rangy left-footer impresses and earns another loan -- or a second chance with the Potters -- he'll seriously contend for a spot in Klinsmann's pre-World Cup training camp in May. Cooling down
Edgar Castillo, LB, Club Tijuana (Mexico)
Why he's here: The Xolos' longtime left back began the new season on coach Farias' bench, with uncapped American Greg Garza in his usual spot. What this means: Castillo, one of the few natural lefties in the U.S. player pool, has been a consistent call-up throughout Klinsmann’s tenure. But he was already on the bubble for Brazil; it’s hard to see the 27-year-old making a strong challenge if he’s not playing regularly south of the border. Oguchi Onyewu, D, QPR (England)
Why he's here: Onyewu hasn't played a minute since signing a short-term contract with the second-tier club in October and won’t be retained, manager Harry Redknapp confirmed Monday. What this means: In theory, the oft-injured Onyewu -- who Redknapp says is now fully fit -- can seek playing time elsewhere. In reality, the 31-year-old hasn’t been a starter at club level in almost two years, so even that may not be enough to make a late bid for Brazil. Michael Orozco, D, Puebla (Mexico)
Why he's here: The Californian, a mainstay for Puebla throughout 2013, was an unused substitute in Sunday’s season-opening 2-2 draw with Pumas. What this means: Like Castillo, Orozco -- who started five games for the U.S. last year, including a Hexagonal match in Costa Rica -- has been a regular under Klinsmann. And like Castillo, he’ll need to win back his job quickly to have any hope of sticking around for the main event.