Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey face tough decision as U.S. Soccer looks to future

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SAO PAULO – Tim Howard heads a list of several key members of the United States' World Cup squad that will now face the tough decision of whether to retire from the national team in the wake of Tuesday's round of 16 defeat to Belgium.

Goalkeeper Howard, captain Clint Dempsey and four-time World Cup representative DaMarcus Beasley are the biggest names among the possible departures, as it is unlikely any would figure in the next tournament, to be held in Russia in 2018.

Howard, man of the match in Salvador on Tuesday, will likely move on, with understudy Brad Guzan having patiently waited in the wings during the 2010 and now the 2014 World Cups.

That decision will come before too long, but he was non-committal when quizzed on Wednesday morning.

[Related: Human wall Tim Howard sets World Cup record in U.S. loss to Belgium]

"I want to be at the bar, throwing beer around and jumping around when Jozy [Altidore] scores goals," Howard told ESPN's Mike and Mike. "That looks fun to me. I don't know. I need to kind of take stock of where I'm at."

Tim Howard's record effort wasn't enough to save the U.S. on Tuesday. (AP)
Tim Howard's record effort wasn't enough to save the U.S. on Tuesday. (AP)

The time and energy involved in traveling back regularly from Europe, where he plays in the English Premier League for Everton, are parts of national team duty Howard would not miss, especially with a young family. However, any decision is yet to be formalized.

"I'm not sure Timmy is ready to look to Russia," U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati said. "Guys like DaMarcus have been extraordinary servants for us. He is at the top of that list because he has been at four World Cups for us."

The end of any World Cup campaign inevitably sees a series of goodbyes to longtime favorites, and that process will work itself through for Jurgen Klinsmann's team in the coming weeks and months.

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Klinsmann will not force anyone out of the door, but admitted he expects to rest certain senior players and take a look at a bunch of up-and-comers as the new cycle begins again.

"There is no thank you and bye," Klinsmann said. "It is always defined by performance and what you bring to the table. A good thing about going into the next year is we can kind of see a lot of young players and give them some time to show where they are at.

"So the experienced or older players, we can tell them for the next couple of months, or for the next year, we want to see the young players grow."

Beasley did not talk to the media after the Belgium game, but he previously joked that it would be "crazy" to consider another World Cup cycle at the age of 32.

[Photos: Tim Howard's heroic game earns hilarious internet memes]

Dempsey faces a tough call. He is now 31 and based in the U.S. with Major League Soccer's Seattle Sounders, which would decrease the travel requirement. His Sounders contract expires at the end of 2017 and it is not known whether he will look to play on after that.

An all-action, high-energy performer, Dempsey's willingness to put himself on the line could make him lean toward hanging up his cleats once his Sounders deal is done. He is not the kind of character to leave anything in reserve in a bid to merely prolong his career.

Like 2010 captain Carlos Bocanegra, Dempsey has great pride in leading the U.S. and stepping aside in favor of a younger man would be a difficult decision. Bocanegra carried on and earned inclusion on and off until 2012, when he was eased aside.

[Related: Tim Howard briefly listed as U.S. Secretary of Defense on Wikipedia]

One man who has already pledged his future, perhaps surprisingly, is midfielder Jermaine Jones. It was widely assumed that Jones was a one-and-done in terms of World Cups, having switched over to represent the U.S. despite growing up in Germany and playing most of his career there.

Will Clint Dempsey suit up for the U.S. in 2018? (AP)
Will Clint Dempsey suit up for the U.S. in 2018? (AP)

Jones wants to see out his career by moving to play in MLS and has a strong preference for the Los Angeles area, as he owns a house there.

Continuing to be part of the national team would do his bargaining power no harm, but more than that, Jones has gained professional satisfaction from international soccer having come desperately close to it with Germany before being one of the final cuts for that team's squad for the 2008 European Championships.

"Now a lot of older players have to look and talk with the coach," Jones said. "For me, I am free, I will look – maybe I go to MLS. I will stay in touch with Jurgen and if he needs me, I still can run so I am good."

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Then there is a group of older MLS players for whom national team recognition came late in their careers.

Chris Wondolowski, 31, will likely be discarded, or at least used only sporadically. However, the popular San Jose Earthquakes forward, who was devastated to have missed a simple chance late in regulation (though wrongly flagged offside), has such pride in playing for his country that it is hard to see him ever turning down a call or ruling himself out formally.

Brad Davis fits that mold too, though he will likely be moved aside as well, especially given the instant impact Julian Green made against Belgium. Brek Shea might get another chance if he stabilizes his club situation.

Goalkeeper Nick Rimando was third choice here and a positive member of the group, but will likely make way for a younger keeper such as Bill Hamid or Sean Johnson as the rebuilding process begins.

Kyle Beckerman is fit as ever at 32 and Klinsmann may rue leaving him out of the starting lineup against Belgium, although Geoff Cameron was outstanding. Beckerman may be retained for now; it would be a monumental effort on his part to still be around in 2018, but he could be of valuable service in the early part of the next qualification process.

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As for the rest, they're likely going nowhere and will look to be part of the squad in Russia. Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore will hope for a better outcome from what would be their third World Cup.

Aron Johannsson may be coming into the peak of his career by then, while youngsters such as Green, DeAndre Yedlin, John Brooks and Mix Diskerud can become part of the core of the team if they continue to develop.

Then there will be others, not anywhere near the radar right now, let along on the fringes of it. Did anybody know who Julian Green was four years ago? DeAndre Yedlin was a high school junior.

With two straight eliminations in the round of 16, the U.S. now knows its par score. Next time, a run to the quarters or better will be the benchmark for success, and the men who form part of this group over the next four years will be well aware of that.

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