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Tim Howard rejects idea U.S. Soccer has 'systematic problems'

Tim Howard sits down with ESPN FC's Jeff Carlisle to discuss the United States' absence from the World Cup, the team's next coach, Jonathan Gonzalez and much more.
Born in Uruguay and raised in the United States, New England midfielder Diego Fagundez shares his thoughts on national team representation.

UNIVERSAL CITY, California -- Goalkeeper Tim Howard says he doesn't think problems with the United States national team run deep, while adding that he thought former manager Bruce Arena did "a great job" in weeding out players not dedicated to the cause.

Howard was speaking at the annual MLS media tour in the Los Angeles area, and touched on a variety of topics. But in the wake of the U.S. team's failure to qualify for the World Cup due in part to a 2-1 loss to Trinidad and Tobago, the state of the team remains in the forefront, as does the pain of that defeat.

"Trinidad was a tough night but it was a tough qualifying campaign," said Howard. "We didn't not qualify for the World Cup in Trinidad. That was over the course of 10 games, not performing well. It's as simple as that.

"I think that great players, players that strive to be great, know how to deal with wins and losses. They know how to deal with the highs and lows.

"This was no different than that. It was incredibly painful. It will always be. You move on, and you continue to perform, and you hopefully learn from it in some way, shape or form."

As for the idea that the the U.S. men's team suffered from deeply ingrained problems, Howard stated he didn't think that was the case.

"There's an election [for USSF president] that's on the horizon, and there are some candidates that have an agenda, and rightfully so, as they should," said Howard.

"In terms of systematic problems, I don't see that at all. I think the long and the short of it is we were one goal from qualifying for a World Cup; one goal; one goal against Mexico in Mexico, one goal against Mexico at home, one goal against Honduras, one goal against Trinidad.

"All we do is concede one less goal, score one more goal, and we're in the World Cup. You can't tell me that's a systematic problem."

Also making news in recent days are comments Arena made to Sports Illustrated at the United Soccer Coaches convention, stating that chemistry was a major issue for the U.S. during the campaign.

Arena said the U.S. squad had "a couple of bad eggs like you have on every team," but that leaders like Howard, Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey were not among them.

Howard said he hadn't seen that article, but revealed: "I actually thought Bruce Arena did a great job of eradicating players that weren't bought into that.

"So if he saw it that way, I certainly trust him, and to be fair, he did a great job of coming in from day one, speaking to people he knew to get a pulse of the team, and tried to get rid of most of the guys who weren't bought in.

"If there were still some remaining, that's certainly his opinion.

Tim Howard, left, says that missing out on the 2018 World Cup had nothing to do with a systemic failure in U.S. Soccer.

"How do you change that? It's down to the manager to select the right players from a technical and quality standpoint, but also from a leadership standpoint and guys who are all in and who would die to wear that shirt.

"We had so many players down the years who had those characteristics. How do you change that? I don't know. That's a managerial thing. They hand select these players and those are the ones who need to figure it out."

Chemistry is one of those terms that offers up plenty of ambiguity. It often means different things to different people. For Howard chemistry is roughly analogous to commitment.

"It's not about personalities," he said. "I think when people think about team chemistry it's like one big powwow and everyone loves each other and hangs out.

"Chemistry is having one direct message from the manager: 'This is the style we're going to play, this is what I expect of you as a player.'

"And then going out and performing every single day. The Chelsea teams under Jose Mourinho seemed to have chemistry. They didn't all like each other, but there was this: 'You're going to do everything that I say, we're going to band together and we're going to win trophies.'

"They did that, so you would talk about them having great chemistry. Internally, you don't know if those guys loved each other or not. So I think chemistry is about commitment."

In terms of the next U.S. manager, Howard said it will depend in part on who the next USSF president will be. The 38-year-old also said he didn't think it had to be an American.

"I think the person who comes in needs to understand our system certainly, both from the federation all the way down to the players on the field," he said.

Howard said while he isn't concerned about the talent level currently in the U.S. setup, a new generation of leaders will need to step forward.

"I think talent-wise, we're safe," he said. "We continue to produce some very good talent. What's going to have to happen, whether it be at the Gold Cup in 2019 or the next World Cup, guys are going to have to take some really strong roles.

"I've been there. It's easy to ride people's coattails and be a part of the national team. But to really drive it forward and stand for something, that's different than just talent alone.

"So these young guys think they're good, they're talented, they've shown the raw ability to get on the field and perform at that level, but to do it consistently over the course of time is not easy."

Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.

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