If U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard makes his fourth World Cup team in 2018, he will be the oldest American World Cup player (at 39, by two years) since the U.S. returned to the tournament in 1990 for the first time in 40 years.
But what about 2016? Howard back in Brazil for the Rio Olympics would be intriguing, but the prospect faces hurdles.
In 2000, Howard made his only U.S. Olympic Team but did not play as a backup to Brad Friedel. The U.S. finished fourth.
Ever since, Howard’s age limited his Olympic chances. Olympic men’s soccer rosters are made up of players under 23 years old, with three exceptions per nation.
Recent Games have seen stars among those exceptions — Andrea Pirlo in 2004, Javier Mascherano and Ronaldinho in 2008 and Ryan Giggs and Luis Suarez in 2012.
Another obstacle is qualification. The U.S. cruelly missed the 2012 Olympics, giving up a stoppage-time goal in CONCACAF qualifying to El Salvador when it was seconds away from advancing to a winner-goes-to-London game.
Another issue is the Copa America Centenario in 2016, which runs June 3-26. The 2016 Olympics are Aug. 5-21, creating a possible scheduling conflict.
Copa America, which crowns South America’s soccer champion but also invites two non-South American nations, is traditionally not held in Olympic years. But CONMEBOL wanted to celebrate its 100-year anniversary by holding a special tournament in 2016.
So special that it’s allowing a non-South American host for the first time. That host is the United States, as if the U.S. Men’s National Team needed any more incentive to field its best possible squad.
Howard’s age, U.S. qualification and a crammed schedule aside, he does have domestic goalie competition in his favor.
His World Cup backup, Brad Guzan, already got his Olympic experience playing in 2008.
The third U.S. keeper at the Brazil World Cup, Nick Rimando, is only three months younger than Howard and therefore less likely to be near Howard’s form two years from now.
The top two goalies from 2012 qualification, Bill Hamid and Sean Johnson, were big reasons why the U.S. failed to make the Olympics for the second time since 1976.
While three overage players are allowed at the Olympics, the qualification rosters must be all U23s. Should the U.S. qualify for 2016 with a strong U23 goalie effort, it might be tough to bench him for a player who did not help the nation qualify. And what would the purpose be of using one of those three overage roster spots on a backup goalie?
There’s plenty of time for changes, though. We won’t know if the U.S. will qualify for Rio de Janeiro and, if it does, the final makeup of the Olympic roster until 2016.