WASHINGTON (AP) Tim Howard returned to the U.S. soccer team knowing he'd be playing behind Brad Guzan at least through mid-October.
Just don't call the 2014 World Cup standout a ''backup.''
After coach Jurgen Klinsmann Wednesday said Guzan would remain his starting goalkeeper - barring injury - through a critical playoff match against Mexico, Howard refuted the suggestion he'd view himself differently.
''Never been a backup,'' Howard said. ''I think that's a mentality. I work my tail off every day. I know what it means to compete at the highest level, to have a certain level of excellence, and I do that. I've never been a backup, I never will be.''
The 36-year-old Howard has started for the U.S. at the past two World Cups. He announced his year-long hiatus from international play following the 2014 tournament.
The 30-year-old Guzan moved into the starting spot during a stretch that has included surprising exhibition wins over Germany and the Netherlands, and a 2-1 loss to Jamaica in July's CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinals.
Mexico won that tournament, forcing an Oct. 10 meeting with the U.S. for the right to represent the CONCACAF region at the 2017 Confederations Cup.
Klinsmann cited those high stakes as a reason not to introduce a goalkeeping battle, and said he discussed it with Howard beforehand.
''Tim accepted that,'' Klinsmann said. ''Now, It's really about getting some consistency with the players and getting a job done in October.''
Exhibitions against Peru on Friday and Brazil on Tuesday represent final tuneups before the playoff. Klinsmann did say he may consider ''splitting time'' between the duo after October.
Klinsmann left former captain and midfielder Landon Donovan off the 2014 World Cup roster after Donovan took four months away from club and country from December 2012 to March 2013. Donovan cited a loss of love for the sport when he took the break. He retired at the end of 2014.
Howard says his was more practical, rooted in a need to spend more time with family and focus on continuing as the regular starter for Everton in the English Premier League.
''I never lost that passion,'' Howard said of international play. ''I've been excited about this team. I've missed it. I took a year out for my own reasons, for the right reasons, and one of those reasons wasn't because I've lost any passion.''
Klinsmann said Howard's experience will be a valuable component in the leadup to October, even if it comes from the sidelines.
''His experience and who he is and what he's done, he immediately will balance things out,'' Klinsmann said. ''He will calm people down. He will kind of look around and give you his two thoughts on things, which is great.''