STANFORD, Calif. -- Veteran goalkeeper Tim Howard remembers when he was the one looking for leadership heading into the World Cup.
Now the roles have changed.
The vocal stalwart, who will earn his 100th cap if he plays all three games in the group stage in Brazil next month, is one of the U.S. national team's more savvy hands, along with DaMarcus Beasley, Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan. Players say they will be leaning on Howard in Brazil.
"I think that's what experienced players are meant to do," Howard said Monday. "I was the young kid one time. I would ride the coattails of the senior players and let them kind of drive it. . . . There's a few of us here who have been around, Michael (Bradley), 'Beas,' Landon and myself. We are going to have to lead the group, whether we like it or not."
Howard, 34, expressed confidence in a young back line lacking World Cup game experience. Center back Clarence Goodson of the Earthquakes was on the U.S. squad in South Africa but did not play.
"We've had a good qualifying campaign," Howard said. "Defensively, we're pretty rock solid. Our numbers say that. We'll have to find out. It's sink or swim time when you get to the World Cup."
The No.1 American keeper since 2009, Howard followed Kasey Keller and Brad Friedel as U.S. national team netminders who made their marks in England.
Though the 2010 U.S. World Cup team had more experience, Howard believes the current squad is slightly stronger and that its inexperience might work to its benefit against Ghana, Portugal and Germany in group play.
"Guys don't actually know what to expect," Howard said. "They're just hungry and want to go for it."
-- The Earthquakes' Chris Wondolowski has impressed teammates at the Stanford camp.
"The path he has taken to get here is incredible," Donovan said.
"Every time during this process, generally you get an attacking player who hits form at the right time. And right now in training, in the games, everything he does is turning to gold. You can tell, he is confident, he is fit. He is one of the top two or three fittest guys here."
-- Donovan, 32, expressed a sense of uncertainty in his attempt to reach his fourth World Cup.
"For me personally, I liken it to 2002," Donovan said. "In 2006 and 2010, I knew for the most part, unless I was awful, that I was going to make the team. This time, it's more similar to '02, when I wasn't sure. In that way, it's as competitive for me as it's been in a long time."
The stalwart Los Angeles Galaxy forward/midfielder doesn't doubt his ability.
"I think I'm deserving to be part of the squad," he added. "But I have to prove that. And I have to earn that."
Staff writer Elliott Almond contributed to this report.
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