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Goalkeeper Tim Howard is USA's voice of experience

Goalkeeper Tim Howard of the United States runs

Goalkeeper Tim Howard of the United States runs drills during their training session at Sao Paulo FC on June 11, 2014 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Kevin C. Cox

NATAL, Brazil - He is the U.S. team's voice of experience, the voice constantly bellowing out instructions to his defenders, praising them when things go right and disapproving when they go awry.

When goalkeeper Tim Howard speaks, his teammates listen.

"It's great. I love it. I welcome it," center back Matt Besler said. "Any criticisms, even if he yells sometimes for mistakes . . . He never has a negative tone."

Well, unless he is cursing at his defenders.

"You can't write some of that," Howard said with a smile. "Often times, I'm giving them praise, which I think gets lost in the shuffle. I am usually probably telling them they did something well . . . to keep their spirits up. More often than that, I am orchestrating, telling them what I think of where the danger is. Sometimes I need to give them a kick in the backside, which happens. When I do it, it's with urgency because it needs to be done quickly."

The urgency will increase multifold Monday at 6 p.m. when Howard and the Americans kick off their World Cup against Ghana in a must-win situation. With Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo and Germany looming in their other two Group G games, three points is a necessity if the Americans are to have a chance of advancing to the knockout round.

At 35, Howard is the oldest American player and this is his third World Cup. He has a defense with virtually no World Cup experience. Except for 32-year-old left back DaMarcus Beasley, who might not start, none of the other seven defenders have played a minute in the Cup.

Though he has been around the international block with 100 appearances and a U.S.-record 54 victories in the net, Howard realizes that anything he says to his younger teammates might not matter. He was in goal when Ghana recorded a 2-1 extra-time win, eliminating the USA in the second round from the South African World Cup in 2010.

"My words would be hollow, because once those lights come on, you kind of have to deal with it, figure it out, find your peace of mind in the chaos," he said. "It's very important. North Brunswick [club] soccer could be in our group and it wouldn't matter. We have to win the first game. It's important we have pressure on us. Heaven knows what's going to happen in the other game. They draw, we win, we top the group and everyone's happy."

Still, Howard is optimistic.

"This is a very good group, a light group," he said. "This is a young group with a bunch of stars in their eyes. They don't know really what to expect, so they're hungry. They're trying to prove a point."

Or in the Ghana match, grab three points from the USA's nemesis. Ghana also eliminated the United States in the 2006 Cup.

"We've got more athleticism, more pace, and that's going to be important to deal with Ghana," Howard said.

Sometimes Howard can show his age. He dozed off on a couch when the USA team watched Brazil's 3-1 win in the Cup opener Thursday. It was not known whether he was tired or bored.

"The problem is we train hard and Timmy is a little bit older, so he has to sleep," midfielder Jermaine Jones said with a big smile

With so much on the line Monday night, Howard cannot afford to doze off for a second. He has to continue to bark his directions to his defense.

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