Klinsmann: Tim Howard remains top US goalkeeper

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Defender Carlos Bocanegra, the primary U.S. captain since 2007, was dropped for the March matches because of a lack of playing time with Racing Santander, his club in the Spanish second division. When Bocanegra went the distance against Elche on Sunday, it marked his first playing time since Feb. 2.

“I will see where he’s at now in a couple weeks from now in terms of the May-June games,” Klinsmann said, looking toward exhibitions against Belgium and Germany, followed by qualifiers against Jamaica, Panama and Honduras. “I’ve always said we’re not closing the door on anybody.”

Before the 2-1 loss at Honduras in February, the Americans had played 16 consecutive qualifiers since 2008 with at least one 30-year-old defender in the starting lineup. Timmy Chandler (23), Omar Gonzalez (24), Fabian Johnson (25), Matt Besler (26) and Geoff Cameron (27) have gotten starts in the last three games, broadening a player pool that had become overly dependent on Bocanegra (33), Steve Cherundolo (34) and Clarence Goodson (30).

Injuries and scheduling have caused Klinsmann to use 25 different lineups in 25 games

“Obviously, you want to see the next generation breaking through,” Klinsmann said. “You want to give them the opportunities to jump in the cold water and swim because only in those moments you really can see if they are up to the task or not.”

Gulati cautioned that improvement isn’t a straight line, that there will be spurts and declines. Since reaching the World Cup quarterfinals in 2002 for its best showing since 1930, the Americans were knocked out in the first round in 2006 and the second round in 2010.

“At some point, we’re not going to qualify for a World Cup. I hope it’s a hundred years from now,” Gulati said. “It’s good that expectations have risen. But it’s not going to always be that we’re going to get one step further. It’s not realistic.”

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